HMIP Inspections of Wormwood Scrubs

The prison was given an inspection in December 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:

“This report describes the findings of a very concerning inspection of HMP Wormwood Scrubs. Our announced inspection took place 18 months after the last inspection, when we also had serious concerns. Not nearly enough progress had been made. The prison, probably the most famous in the country, remained in a poor condition with unacceptably poor outcomes for the 1,258 adult men held, with much too little done to address their behaviour before they returned to the community.

Since our last inspection, progress had been severely hindered by very poor industrial relations at the prison. There were staff shortages and the main union was opposed to the staffing arrangements for an improved regime the governor had wanted to introduce. Negotiations were protracted and eventually, following a procedural escalation of the dispute, national managers and union officials negotiated an alternative regime. The new regime that had been negotiated was, in theory, an improvement. In reality it was not being consistently delivered.

Safety at the prison had deteriorated since the last inspection. Prisoners’ poor experiences started on arrival at the prison. A large number of prisoners often arrived late in the day and reception processes sometimes continued into the early hours of the morning, which undermined the ability of reception and health staff to identify risks and needs. The first night centre did not have capacity for all new arrivals, so some new arrivals were located in other parts of the prison where they missed important early days processes. Inadequate arrangements for prisoners who required alcohol detoxification were particularly dangerous.

Half the prisoners in our survey told us they had felt unsafe at some time in the prison and one in five told us they felt unsafe at the time of the inspection. The number of assaults on prisoners and staff was double that at similar prisons and at the time of the last inspection. We found prisoners who were too frightened to leave their cells and were not adequately supported by staff. There had been two self-inflicted deaths since the last inspection. Some limited improvements had been made to supporting prisoners at risk of suicide and self-harm, but procedures remained weak and prisoners at risk told us they did not feel adequately supported.

Almost two out of five prisoners told us it was easy to get drugs in the prison and one in five that it was easy to get alcohol – both were much higher than in comparable prisons and than at the last inspection. In random mandatory tests 15% of prisoners tested positive for drugs; these tests told only part of the story as they could not reveal whether prisoners had used new psychoactive substances such as Spice or Mamba, which did not show up in testing but were increasingly available. Drug use was linked to gang activity and debt. The prison’s response to these threats was wholly inadequate.

The regime was generally so poor for everyone that the incentives and earned privileges schemes provided little encouragement for good behaviour and the number of formal adjudications was so high that many failed because they could not be heard before they were out of time. Rules were not applied consistently throughout the prison. Levels of use of force were far higher than in similar prisons, oversight was poor and we were not assured its use was always proportionate. While we witnessed some good interactions between staff and prisoners we also saw some inappropriate and unprofessional exchanges. Sixty-three per cent of prisoners said staff treated them with respect compared with 74% in similar prisons.

Prisoners from black and minority ethnic backgrounds reported similarly to white prisoners, but the prison had been to slow to act on monitoring data that showed adverse outcomes for Muslim prisoners. The number of foreign national prisoners had risen and they now amounted to a third of the population. Too little had been done to meet their needs, particularly those who could not read or speak English. There was good provision for older prisoners but poor practical provision for prisoners with disabilities. The chaplaincy service, however, was one of the most effective parts of the prison.

There had been some improvements to the physical environment but much remained poor. Some of this was due to unacceptable failures by nationally commissioned external services. Many prisoners spent almost all day, and ate their unappetising meals, doubled up in a dirty, damaged cell with an unscreened toilet. Some prisoners had improvised a toilet screen with a torn sheet and stuffed paper in broken windows to keep out the weather. We found two prisoners on ACCTs (assessment, care in custody and teamwork case management for prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm) in cells in which jagged glass remained in the broken windows. It was a struggle to get clean clothing and bedding. The prison had a significant rat problem; we saw them every day and night we visited the prison and a large rats’ nest was very obvious in the grounds.

Health services were reasonable and mental health services were a good and much needed strength of the prison. However, access to both internal and external health services was sometimes restricted – one consequence of staffing shortages and the limited regime. Most prisoners still had less than two hours a day out of their cells and we found more than half the population locked behind their doors during the working day. There were an inadequate number of activity places available; only 25% of prisoners were engaged in activities at any one time and only 13% were attending activities off the wing. Six hundred prisoners were unemployed. Poor use was made of the activity places available and attendance and punctuality was poor. The senior management team were making a major effort to improve the quality of the activities that were available and there were some signs of improvement, but Ofsted still assessed the overall effectiveness of the provision as inadequate.

Offender management and resettlement services were also poor. Staff shortages meant that most prisoners did not have an offender supervisor and there was a large backlog of risk assessments. Those who were serving longer sentences faced a transfer unrelated to the needs identified in their sentence plan, or being stuck at Wormwood Scrubs and unable to progress. While some resettlement services, such as substance misuse support and family support, were good, the key areas of accommodation and education, training and employment had deteriorated. The prison’s own data suggested that since the new community rehabilitation company had taken over resettlement services, the proportion of prisoners who had accommodation on release had fallen from 95% to 60%. The prison was unable to explain this fall.

Wormwood Scrubs is a prison that continues to fall short of expected standards, and at the time of our inspection there was little cause for optimism. We leave the prison managers and staff with a series of recommendations, many repeated, which we believe require immediate attention if the establishment is to begin to fulfil its responsibilities.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM                     January 2016

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

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