One of the country’s most well-known prisons, in west London, has been heavily criticised by inspectors after it was found to be unsafe, “filthy” in places and under-resourced.
HMP Wormwood Scrubs, a Victorian jail, experienced major structural changes in late 2013 which led to a “large tranche of experienced staff” leaving, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) said.
The prison, which has held notable inmates including Oscar Wilde’s lover Lord Alfred Douglas and rock stars such as Pete Doherty and the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, has seen six prisoners take their lives since its last inspection in 2011, with five committing suicide in 2013 alone.
Inspectors said the jail, which holds 1,300 prisoners but sees around 2,500 move in and out each month, had “shockingly” failed to put in place repeated recommendations by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman to tackle suicide and self-harm.
Nearly half of inmates indicated that they had at some time felt unsafe during their stay in the prison, inspectors said, while 22% felt unsafe at the time of the unannounced inspection in May.
A number of cells designed for one prisoner held two, many windows were broken with some exposed shards, graffiti was widespread and many toilets were filthy, the report added.
Chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick said: “This is a very disappointing report. Major structural changes in late 2013 had led to a significant reduction of resources.
“We were told that one consequence of this was that a large tranche of experienced staff had left very quickly and that this had been destabilising, not least because the prison had found it difficult to recruit replacements.
“There was some recent evidence that important steps had been taken to arrest the decline, but there was still much to be done.
“We highlight many concerns in this report, not least the safety of prisoners, especially those at risk of self-harm, environmental standards and the need for better access to activities.”
Inspectors said a “significant” backlog of around 100 new prisoners meant the prison was not coping with the volumes of inmates arriving.
“The induction process was good in principle but there was a backlog of at least 100 prisoners who were unable to engage in activities in the meantime,” the report said.
It went on: “Many staff appeared extremely stretched and some were clearly frustrated that they could not do more; others appeared to have lost focus on prisoners’ needs.”
Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, said: “Wormwood Scrubs has been through a difficult change process. It has had to adapt to hold young offenders alongside its adult population whilst implementing new structures and routines to provide a decent regime for prisoners at lower cost.
“This has not been an easy transition, however as the Chief Inspector acknowledges the Governor has taken decisive action to address the situation.”
Frances Crook, chief executive of charity the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The Ministry of Justice’s policies are causing chaos and crisis in prisons.
“People are dying and staff are put in danger as a result.
“The long-term consequence will be increased crime inflicted on us all when prisoners are released after a period of isolation and inactivity in stinking cells, resentful and impecunious.
“Prisons have gone into meltdown in the last year and it is a direct result of Government policy. I have never seen a public service deteriorate so rapidly and so profoundly.”
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust (PRT), said: “Over two years, Wormwood Scrubs, London’s best-known Victorian jail, has gone from being an establishment described as getting the basics right to one where standards have deteriorated, remaining staff are overstretched and prisoners feel unsafe.
“Drastic cuts combined with rushed policy decisions are driving our prisons into freefall. Locking people up in filthy cells with nothing to do is no way to transform rehabilitation. If the Justice Secretary is still asking ‘crisis, what crisis?’, he should read this report from cover to cover.”