HMP Wandsworth: Prisoners safety is “now a matter of serious concern”

HM Prison Wandsworth


Our last inspection of HMP Wandsworth in June 2009 was marred by an attempt to subvert the
process by moving ‘difficult’ prisoners between Wandsworth and Pentonville so they were not
present in either prison during the inspection. This action by managers at the prisons
overshadowed the inspection findings at Wandsworth, which otherwise would have reported
on good progress in a prison that had been of concern for some time.
There was no attempt to subvert this follow-up inspection. However, the prison’s progress had
halted and overall outcomes for prisoners were significantly worse than at the time of the last

In particular, the safety of prisoners held in Wandsworth is now a matter of serious concern.

HMP Wandsworth is a large, Victorian, category B prison serving the courts of South London.
There is no doubt it holds a challenging population with multiple problems, many of whom are
held for only short periods. We were told that morale in the prison had suffered after the
progress made by the time of the last inspection was undermined by the prisoner swap.
Nevertheless, Wandsworth compared badly with similar prisons facing similar challenges and
we were concerned by what appeared to be unwillingness among some prison managers and
staff to acknowledge and take responsibility for the problems the prison faced.
The level of self-harm and the number of self-inflicted deaths were high. There had been about
700 ACCT documents opened in 2010, 120 in the first two months of 2011 and 60 open at the
time of the inspection. Typically, there were about 32 incidents of self-harm each month and
about 60 open ACCT documents at any given time. There had been 11 deaths in custody
between January 2010 and the time of this inspection; four of these had apparently been selfinflicted.
Key areas of risk were the inconsistent quality of ACCT procedures and the practice
of moving prisoners who were stabilising from drugs or detoxing from alcohol out of the first
night centre, where they could be closely monitored, before stabilisation was complete. We
were also concerned that poor staff-prisoner relationships, the lack of a predictable regime,
deficiency of association, and insufficient activity contributed to feelings of isolation and
alienation that might have led to self-harming behaviour.
Only 58% of prisoners (against the 70% comparator and 73% at the time of the last inspection)
said they had a member of staff in the prison they could turn to if they had a problem. We
observed frequently indifferent and sometimes abusive staff interactions with prisoners.
Prisoners struggled to get assistance with low level domestic issues or answers to simple
queries. The formal application and complaints systems were overwhelmed and ineffective.
Inspectors were inundated by prisoners asking for reasonable help with small things because
the prison staff did not assist. The induction process was poor and many prisoners lacked
basic knowledge about the routines and rules of the prison.
Prisoners with any sort of specific individual need were particularly disadvantaged. We found
prisoners with mobility difficulties located on residential landings which did not allow them
access to showers. One prisoner with a disability had been remanded at the prison for more
than three months and told us he had not had a shower in that time. There was no strategy to
meet the needs of foreign national prisoners. Despite the presence of UKBA staff in the prison,
liaison arrangements did not appear to be effective. Many foreign national prisoners were held
beyond the end of their sentence – one for three years. We were told by the independent
advice service that inaccurate information had led to some detainees being incorrectly held.
Most cells were shared and had inadequately screened toilets. First night cells were not
cleaned of graffiti; some of what we saw was racist. At best, prisoners were locked in their cells
for 16.5 hours a day (but even that was not every day of the week); at worst, prisoners were
out of their cells for just two hours a day. Association was often cancelled and when it did
occur there was little for prisoners to do and we observed little interaction with officers.
Exercise in the fresh air was limited to 30 minutes a day but this was cancelled in bad weather
and recreational use of the PE facilities was poor. The core day was not adhered to. There
were good training opportunities in the workshops but it was disappointing to see the excellent
Timpsons workshop operating at well below capacity.
Victims of bullying behaviour were not adequately protected. Processes to identify and
respond to both individual incidents and patterns of violent behaviour and to support victims
were ineffective. The level of use of force remained high and our examination of records of
incidents showed that de-escalation was not always used. Reviews and records of the use of
force were not sufficiently rigorous and neither we nor the prison could be assured that all use
of force was proportionate and necessary.
The segregation unit lacked direction. The regime was poor and there appeared to be little
attempt to tackle and resolve any of the underlying reasons for prisoners’ behaviour. One
prisoner with obvious communication difficulties, lying in on his bed with a blanket over his
head and an uneaten meal beside him, told me he would refuse to go back to normal location
because he was being bullied. Segregation staff did not appear to be aware of his concerns or
have attempted to resolve them and it seemed all too likely that confrontation would occur
when it was time for him to return.
The prison did not respond adequately to the needs of the diverse population it held. In
addition to the concerns about prisoners with disabilities and foreign national prisoners referred
to above, black and minority ethnic prisoners were disadvantaged in significant areas of the
prison and this needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Performance in other diversity
strands was also weak and diversity was not visibly promoted in the prison.
Health care offered a generally better picture. The Jones Unit provided a high level of inpatient
care in a good environment for prisoners with a physical illness. Mental health services were
good and when transfers to secure mental health units were required they were not unduly
In our survey, 40% of prisoners, against a comparator of 23%, said that the food was good or
very good. We received few complaints about the food.
Resettlement was the best area of the provision and some good resettlement services were
provided. Work on accommodation, education, training and employment and substance
misuse was encouraging but all area of resettlement would be strengthened by a strategy
based on a needs analysis and opportunities for prisoners to engage with resettlement
services earlier in their sentences.
We were told that some resettlement services would be discontinued. It was not clear whether
this was for budgetary or other reasons. This compounded disruptions or cancellations to
many aspects of the prison regime, as described in this report, which were caused by staff
shortages and redeployments.
The treatment and conditions of simply too many prisoners at Wandsworth was demeaning,
unsafe and fell below what could be classed as decent. I did not detect sufficient willingness
in the prison to acknowledge and address these concerns. I hope the Prison Service
management will now act decisively to reverse the prison’s decline.

Nick Hardwick
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons