HMIP Inspections of Wandsworth

The prison was given an inspection in early 2015, the full report can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their latest report the inspectors said:

“Our last inspection of HMP Wandsworth in June 2013 described how the determined efforts of staff and managers had made significant improvements in the prison, which then offered reasonably good outcomes for prisoners in all areas. This inspection found that for reasons largely outside the prison’s control, outcomes had deteriorated significantly and it faced severe problems.

HMP Wandsworth in south London is a Victorian category B local prison with a category C resettlement unit. The prison was unacceptably overcrowded. It held 1,630 adult men, more than any other in the UK, and almost 70% more than its certified normal accommodation of 963. The population had grown and changed since the last inspection. Trinity unit, which in the past had held vulnerable prisoners, and was closed for refurbishment at the last inspection, had now re-opened to hold category C prisoners, which meant that the population had increased by about 400 men. The prison had been designated a foreign national prisoner hub and held over 700 foreign nationals – about 40% of the population. Our survey suggested that over 100 of them could not speak English. The prisoners on Heathfield, the category B side, were typical of prisoners in other inner city local prisons, with a high incidence of mental health and substance abuse problems.

There were about 300 referrals to the mental health team each month. Almost 500 prisoners were on the caseload of the prison’s drug services. One in three reported housing problems when they first arrived, one in four reported money worries, and one in five said they felt depressed or suicidal. Category C prisoners on Trinity generally had different needs: good quality work, education and training opportunities, and interventions to address their behaviour to reduce the risk they would reoffend when released. Severe staffing shortages compromised the prison’s ability to meet the needs of either group of prisoners. Since the last inspection the prison’s budget had been reduced by about 25% and staffing levels had been reduced by about 100 across all grades and roles. This was compounded by difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff in the posts that remained. Turnover among senior staff was particularly high and this severely undermined the prison’s ability to consistently implement some important processes. In one 24-hour period during the inspection, 40 officers were out of the prison on bed watches – supervising prisoners during external hospital stays.

Despite the efforts of staff, processes to keep prisoners safe lacked resilience. Reception and early days processes vividly illustrated the pressures the prison was under. There was an average of about 2,000 movements through reception each month. Reception processes were generally efficient but at busy times prisoners went to the wings without retrieving their property or telephone numbers from their phones; and they might wait for more than a week before they were able to do so.

Prisoners generally went to well-prepared first night cells and the prison relied heavily on a team of prisoner insiders to help new prisoners, including non-English speakers, to settle in. However, there were risks that new prisoners who needed extra support would not be identified. Some cell sharing risk assessments were not fully completed and staff on the first night unit did not know where new prisoners were located. Not all new arrivals who needed substance misuse treatment received appropriate monitoring and observation.

Ten prisoners had died since the last inspection. Four of the deaths were self-inflicted. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman had published his report into one of these deaths but the recommendations it contained were not yet fully embedded in practice. We were notified of two further deaths as this report was being prepared: one was self-inflicted and the other an apparent homicide. Levels of self-harm and the number of prisoners identified as being at risk of suicide or self-harm were relatively low, but the quality of support processes was inconsistent and management checks were inadequate. A valuable daily complex needs meeting reviewed the management of the most complex prisoners, but this process would have been improved by the attendance of key residential staff. Prisoners on Heathfield had difficulty accessing Listeners (prisoners trained by the Samaritans to provide confidential emotional support) and the Listener suite on Trinity was dirty and blood-splattered.

About one in five prisoners told us they felt unsafe at the time of the inspection. The excellent arrangements to identify, manage and reduce violence that we found at the last inspection had lapsed and neither we nor the prison were able to accurately identify the scale and pattern of violent incidents in the prison. Processes to address perpetrators and support victims were very weak. Prisoners told us, and we observed, that landings were unstaffed for long periods and this created potential for violence to take place unnoticed and unchallenged. Vulnerable prisoners were kept safe in a gated-off section on one of the wings but no attention had been given to the risks some of them posed towards the few vulnerable young adults who were also held there.

Security measures were mainly proportionate and measures to restrict the supply of illegal drugs were more effective than we have seen recently in comparable prisons. Substance misuse services had deteriorated since the last inspection but were generally adequate. The use of force had increased and governance was poor. Throughput in the segregation unit was high, and the environment and regime in the unit were poor. Nevertheless, segregation staff managed some very challenging prisoners well.

In some prisons we have inspected recently, a filthy and dilapidated environment has been the surest indication the prison has almost given up under the pressures it faced. The external environment at HMP Wandsworth was clean and in good repair, a sign of the efforts the prison was making. Nevertheless, overcrowding and staff shortages had a severe impact. Most prisoners were doubled up in small cells designed for one, with an unscreened, shared toilet close to the beds. Prisoners struggled to obtain sufficient clothing, bedding and cleaning materials. Call bells went unanswered for long periods. The application process which prisoners used to make simple requests was ineffective.

The third of prisoners who were unemployed – more than 500 men – usually spent 23 hours a day locked in their cells, and the frequent curtailment of activities meant that many more were frequently confined to their cells for most of the day. Daily exercise periods might be as little as 15 minutes and staff shortages meant that association periods were restricted and inconsistent so prisoners were unable to use the phones or showers.

We observed mostly courteous relationships between staff and prisoners but staff shortages severely reduced the capacity of staff to interact with prisoners. Prisoners we spoke to were, for the most part, sympathetic to the pressure that staff were under. Equality and diversity work had sharply deteriorated but prisoners with protected characteristics generally reported more positively than the population as a whole about their treatment by staff, though more negatively about their ability to get their practical needs met. Provision for the large number of foreign national prisoners was inadequate. Prisoners who did not speak English largely relied on other prisoners to make themselves understood and many were frustrated and anxious about their inability to get advice about their complex extradition or other immigration issues. Support for prisoners with disabilities was very poor; there was no formal care planning and many struggled to make their way around the prison. The chaplaincy played an important part in prison life, but worship facilities were inadequate for the size and make up of the population.

Health services had deteriorated since the last inspection mainly because of staff shortages. The quality of nursing care by some nurses was poor. Medicine management was also weak. The regime in the Jones unit – the inpatient unit for patients with physical health needs – was very poor. Mental health care was much better but the capacity of the Addison unit, which provided inpatient care for men with complex mental health needs, was insufficient to meet demand; some of these very ill men had to be cared for on the wings. There were unacceptably long delays in transferring men out of the prison to secure mental health facilities.

There were insufficient activity places for the population and attendance at those available was poor. Under A4e, the previous learning and skills provider, the leadership of learning and skills and the quality of provision had declined considerably. Manchester College, the new provider, was beginning to address this as the inspection was underway but the provision should not have been allowed to deteriorate in this way. Ofsted, our partner inspectorate, declared the provision inadequate. Some teaching and learning – such as in the radio and motorcycle workshops – was good, but too much required improvement. Too few prisoners completed courses. It was a great concern that no extra activity places had been provided for the 350 category C prisoners who had been taken on when the Trinity unit opened in 2014. Many of these men were nearing the end of their sentence and provision to prepare them for future employment, education or training was inadequate – a surer way of undermining their rehabilitation was hard to imagine. The library and gyms were good, but too few prisoners could access them even when staffing shortages did not mean they were closed.

HMP Wandsworth was in the process of becoming a resettlement prison and was piloting a new arrangement for working with the relevant Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC), MTC Novo, which would provide most resettlement services from May 2015. It was early days but we were not assured that the new arrangements would be fully in place for when the CRC took over. Offender management was in disarray, with severe staff shortages and disorganisation creating a backlog of risk assessments, inconsistent quality, and weaknesses in public protection rrangements. Throughout the inspection we were inundated by prisoners with concerns about delays to the categorisation process, without which they could not progress their sentences. Their concerns were justified: out of 847 prisoners who should have had a security category set, only 531 had been completed. Probation and prison offender management staff worked in separate offices and used their own system rather than P-Nomis (the electronic case work system) to record their work, which was consequently inaccessible to other staff.

Practical resettlement needs were very mixed. About 140 prisoners were released every month. St Giles Trust worked with peer mentors to help prisoners find accommodation but often only a temporary solution was available. A number of agencies assisted prisoners with employment and training issues but their work was poorly coordinated and sometimes duplicated.

Health care arrangements were generally satisfactory but foreign nationals being deported to their country of origin were not given appropriate medication. Substance misuse services were good but there was insufficient help for prisoners with financial issues. Our survey indicated that about 700 prisoners had children under 18. Fewer men than in comparable prisons said they had help to maintain contact with them. Visit facilities were reasonable but the booking system was in disarray: there was a backlog of over 1,000 email requests despite vacancies for visits throughout the inspection.

Overcrowding and severe staff shortages had led to deteriorating outcomes at HMP Wandsworth. It was not simply a matter of prisoners spending practically all day confined in shared cells the Victorians had designed for one – unacceptable though that was. Overcrowding, combined with severe staff shortages, meant that almost every service was insufficient to meet the needs of the population. There were not enough staff on the wings to engage with prisoners; sometimes they were absent altogether. Essential safety processes were inconsistently applied. The needs of foreign national prisoners were inadequately met. There was not enough space for all prisoners who wanted to attend religious services to do so and there were insufficient activity places. Some essential processes that enabled prisoners to progress and reduce the risk they would reoffend had long backlogs, and procedures to protect the public were not sufficiently robust. Anxious family members could not get an answer from the visits booking service.

Managers and staff in the prison deserve credit for preventing the prison from deteriorating further, but it was not a surprise that some managers and staff were demoralised and others were clearly exhausted. Not all the problems at Wandsworth were a result of the population and resource pressures and this report identifies important areas the prison itself can and should address. Nevertheless, the Prison Service nationally will need to address the mismatch between a prison’s available resources and the size and needs of its population. Unless this is addressed, prisons will struggle to hold men safely and decently and to reassure the public that effective work has been done to reduce the risk that prisoners will reoffend and create more victims after release. 

Nick Hardwick                       July 2015

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

Return to Wandsworth

To read the full reports, go to the Ministry of Justice site or follow the links below: