Monitors highlight ‘indecent conditions’ at Wormwood Scrubs – one of ’10 Prison Project’ jails

A prisoner spent more than a week in a cell with no window during winter, according to a watchdog report.

Inmates and staff were living and working in “indecent and unacceptable” conditions at HMP Wormwood Scrubs, the Independent Monitoring Board for the west London jail found.

The board’s annual report covering the 12 months to the end of May 2018 said the physical environment at the prison remained “unacceptably poor” in many residential areas.

It said: “It is not right that a modern-day prison should have rat infestations in its grounds, unheated cells with broken windows, or insufficient access to water.”

Over the course of the year, the IMB said it found “unacceptable” temperatures at the prison, showers that were either cold or scalding hot, and staff using heaters to stay warm.

There were rat infestations in external areas, and one wing lost network access for several days after rodents chewed through cabling.

A prisoner had spent more than a week in a cell with no water supply and no window during a cold winter, the IMB said.

It added: “By the end of December, there were multiple problems with the boilers and half the prison had been unheated for six weeks, including cells that had no window and were open to the elements.”

The report also said a prisoner had been released early because of a “serious” error in calculating his release date. He was later returned to custody.

Built between 1875 and 1891, Wormwood Scrubs had a population of 1,106 at the end of March.

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “Wormwood Scrubs, like other Victorian prisons, faces challenges around living conditions and maintenance.

“As part of our 10 prisons project it is receiving extra investment and support, and since the reporting period new secure windows have been installed and refurbishment of the wings is ongoing.”

The spokeswoman added: “Releases in error are very rare but we take them extremely seriously and work with the police to bring offenders back into custody quickly.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook,  writes:

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at HMP Wormwood Scrubs have highlighted what they call  ‘indecent conditions’ at the prison – rats, vermin, broken windows, no heating or water in cells and prisoner released in error – and this is one of the ‘10 Prisons Project’ jails.
While this is serious – what is risible is that it’s taken a full year after the end of the reporting period for this report to see the light of day.
Why?
The IMB claim to be an independent body, the clue is right there in their name, but no independent body worthy of the name would behave like this – no wonder a previous IMB Chair at Wormwood Scrubs walked out in disgust.
This report is of historical value only – much like the entire IMB organisation itself.

The IMB should agree a protocol with publication one month after submission to the MOJ – the public should not be forced to wait a year to find out what on earth is going on.

Read The Report

Mail & Property Scanners installed in ’10 Jails Project’ Prisons

Prisons have been issued with specialist scanning equipment and detailed instructions on handling incoming mail following a surge in attempts to post drug-laced paper and other contraband to inmates.

Correspondence is being exploited to convey illicit substances and items into establishments, according to an official security briefing seen by the Press Association.

Instances have been reported in all prison regions in England and Wales, and in both the male and female estate.

Finds have included “large amounts” of drugs, tobacco and sim cards, the document circulated by HM Prison & Probation Service says.

It also reveals that some jails have reported chemically laced paper containing household chemicals such as alloy wheel cleaner, insect poison, koi carp sedative and acetone.

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said scanners which can detect invisible traces of drugs soaked into clothing and paper have been installed at 10 of the most challenging jails.

He said drugs in prison have been a “game-changer”, driving self-harm and extreme violence, adding: “As the methods used to smuggle drugs into prisons continue to evolve, our response to that threat becomes ever more agile and vigilant.”

Smuggling attempts involving mail have come under the spotlight after psychoactive substances such as Spice were identified as a major threat to prison stability.

The drugs, formerly known as “legal highs”, have had a “significant” impact on the safety and security of establishments, the briefing note says.

The official guidance, obtained by the Press Association following a Freedom of Information request, says intelligence continues to suggest that paper laced with psychoactive substances (PS) is being supplied via correspondence.

It states: “The potency of PS paper can vary significantly between batches and even within different sections of a single sheet.

“As our ability to detect herbal PS and interrupt conveyance has improved, prisoners have increasingly sought to convey PS-soaked paper as it is easier to conceal.

“Actual levels of laced paper entering the establishments are not known; however, intelligence reporting indicates that post appears to be the preferred method.”

The briefing, marked “Official”, was issued to governors, security departments and mail room staff in November.

It says: “Whilst it is recognised that mail is one method in which prisoners may receive illicit items, we should not introduce processes that indefinitely treat all such correspondence as suspicious.

“Where justified, we should open, read, and stop mail on a case-by-case basis.”

Staff members who suspect that mail contains illicit items are advised to wear personal protective equipment for health and safety reasons and evidence preservation, the five-page paper says.

Photocopying correspondence and providing prisoners with copies of the original letters may be considered if it is proportionate to the risk posed, the guidance says.

Any establishment that imposes this measure for all post should review the position at least every three months, while legal and confidential mail can only be photocopied if there is “specific intelligence or suspicion”.

The document recommends that prisons communicate with law firms to ensure genuine correspondence is correctly marked, following warnings about the use of bogus legal letters for smuggling attempts.

Where there is a local supplier of newspapers and magazines, jails should consider using more than one to “disrupt potential conveyance activity in this area”.

The document emphasises that “due care should be given not to significantly delay a prisoner’s access to mail, in the interest of ensuring minimal impact on family life”.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “This guidance shows why tackling drugs in prison is more complicated than people sometimes like to think.”

He suggested a straightforward way to reduce the problem would be to give prisoners “controlled access” to electronic communications, adding: “You can’t spray Spice on to an email.”

Mark Leech, Editor of Converse, the largest circulation national monthly prisons newspaper, welcomed the development but said it needed to go much further.

Mr Leech said: “Drugs are a menace in our prisons leading to violence, bullying, self-harm and suicides, anything that reduces the importation into prisons of drugs is to be welcomed.

“But installing scanners in less than 10 per cent of prisons is woefully inadequate, the Prisons Minister needs to get real and install them across the prison estate.

“Prison governors can authorise the opening of mail between inmates and social contacts to check for illicit enclosures, and they also have the power to open legal correspondence, and read it, where there are grounds for believing that it contains illicit enclosures or doesn’t come from a bona fide legal source.”

The latest prison safety statistics will be published at 09.30 today – Thursday 31st January 2019.