Damning Reports Shows Doubling of Violent Attacks at Wandsworth Prison

Inspectors find overcrowding and inmates locked in cells for 22 hours a day

HMP Wandsworth
HMP Wandsworth

Inmates in Wandsworth Prison area plagued by violence, overcrowding and are locked in their cells for 22 hours a day, a damning report has found.

Serious attacks at the prison doubled in six months before the inspection in June compared to the six months before the previous inspection in September, according to a prison watchdog.

Staff blamed the increased violence on a rise in gang-related issues at the men’s prison, which houses more than 1,300 inmates, after it began accepting people from more courts in Greater London.

They also said prisoners spent more time outside their cells which had “allowed more opportunity for these tensions to develop”.

The report by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons found investigations into violent incidents had improved since the last inspection and that staff had developed strategies to try to make the prison safer.

But the report warned many officers weren’t clear about their role in reducing violence and “lacked confidence in challenging poor behaviour on the wings”.

The number of times force had been used against prisoners was also high and had increased since the last visit.

Inspectors said most prisoners continued to live in overcrowded wings, despite the number of inmates at the prison being cut by 300 to 1,364 in September 2021.

They slammed “very poor” living conditions at the prison, which is one of the oldest in the country, with “piles of litter”, “dirty, graffiti covered cells” and broken furniture.

The report said prisoners could only wash their clothes once every two weeks and blasted “squalid conditions” in showers on one of the units.

Inspectors said most prisoners had at least weekly access to the library and gym compared to the last visit, but that “too many prisoners remained unemployed and locked in their cells for too long”. Around 44 per cent of staff were absent or unable to carry out their normal duties at the time of the inspection.

Ofsted inspectors said education, skills and workspaces were available for less than half of the prisoners and there were long waiting lists for many activities, meaning “too many prisoners were not able to develop the skills they needed for employment or training on release”.

The report also found support for prisoners who needed help to find accommodation after release was poor.

Charlie Taylor, HM chief inspector of prisons, said, “The prison remained very overcrowded, with many prisoners living in very poor conditions. Several capital projects were in progress which would deliver improvements, but many of these were behind schedule and, even when complete, would not resolve all the deficiencies at Wandsworth.

“It was concerning that staff and managers were not doing everything they could to notice or address the issues that were in their control. Prisoners were moved into dirty, graffiti covered cells, some of which had no windows.

“Cleaning cupboards continued to be in disarray and there were large amounts of rubbish in exercise yards attracting vermin. We found that there was no credible plan to make sustainable improvements across the wings.

“Despite improvements, time out of cell remained too limited. There was not enough activity for the population and this was compounded by managers not filling all available activity spaces and poor attendance in education. As a result, more than half the population was unemployed and these prisoners were locked up for 22 hours a day.”

A HM Prison Service spokesperson said, “HMP Wandsworth is addressing the concerns raised on the report, providing additional training for staff to drive down violence and a new approach to supporting troubled youth offenders.

“The prison’s population has reduced recently which will be further helped by our £4 billion investment to create 20,000 additional, modern prison places – providing the education, skills and support prisoners need to live crime-free lives on release.”

Charlotte Lillywhite - Local Democracy Reporter

August 2, 2022