HMIP Inspections of Pentonville

The prison was given an inspection in January 2017, 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:

HMP Pentonville remains a large, overcrowded Victorian local prison serving courts in North London, holding over 1,200 adult and young adult men. The population is complex and demanding. Just over half are sentenced, often to long periods in custody, for serious violent or drug-related offences. Gang behaviour is pervasive and brings significant challenges for stability and good order. Around a quarter of the population are foreign nationals, and at the time of the inspection 40 of these were time-served detainees, held under administrative powers. In our survey, 84% of men said they had arrived at the prison with problems of some kind, and around a quarter said these included feeling depressed or suicidal; 28% said they had mental health problems.

During the inspection, our health inspector discovered that one in five men was taking anti-psychotic drugs, which has significant implications for all staff dealing with their care and management. In addition, in 2016, 111 patients had been transferred or listed for transfer to a secure mental health unit – this is the largest number of psychiatric transfers the inspectorate has ever come across. Half of these men had waited longer than the transfer target of two weeks, and one had waited 169 days, which was totally unacceptable.

At our previous two inspections, we became increasingly concerned about the poor outcomes for prisoners at Pentonville, and when we last visited in February 2015 we gave our bottom score for three out of four healthy prison tests. As a consequence, this inspection was announced, which we hoped would give prison leaders and staff the opportunity to address some of our main concerns before we re-visited.

What we found at this inspection was, in some ways, encouraging, with significant efforts made to address our previous criticisms. However, we continued to have significant concerns about poor outcomes, particularly for the safety of the prison. Levels of violence remained too high and some of it was serious, including a homicide in late 2016. There had been five self-inflicted deaths since our last inspection, and frailties in the case management and care for men vulnerable to suicide and self-harm were evident. Governance, reporting and quality assurance of security, adjudications and use of force needed attention to provide reassurance that poor behaviour was being identified, well managed and dealt with fairly. In contrast, there had been some proactive measures to address levels of disorder, and there were signs that this was having a positive impact. Additional investment, some of which followed two escapes in 2016, was supporting these early signs of improvement Work to limit the supply of drugs, and support for men with substance misuse problems, was well developed. Nevertheless, significant work was still needed to address our concerns about safety.

Given the challenges presented by being an inherently overcrowded, run-down Victorian local prison, Pentonville had made real efforts to improve the cleanliness of the environment and the ability of men to live decent lives. Much still needed to be done, but good progress had been made. It was obvious that there had been serious underinvestment in the infrastructure of the prison – illustrated by the continuing poor state of many cell windows, and the shabbiness and scarcity of cell fixtures and fittings. Staff-prisoner relationships had improved, although management needed to maintain focus on this to ensure staff continued to develop and improve how they dealt with the men in theircare. While there was some good work with the large number of foreign nationals, the prison did not fully understand the needs of this group, and what they could do to support them better.

There had been a clear focus on improving the regime was now more predictable, and the number of activity places had increased significantly. Prison and learning and skills leaders now needed towork together to capitalise fully on the benefits of these improvements.

Resettlement work had improved and we now rated this as reasonably good overall. It was an achievement that, in a period of significant challenges to the prison, managers had maintained theirfocus on delivering resettlement support to the prisoners. Work to support the men held at Pentonville with accommodation problems and in maintaining contact with their children, families and friends was particularly noteworthy.

It is clear that Pentonville remains an immensely challenging prison, and that outcomes for prisoners remain, in many respects, not good enough. However, we were encouraged to see at this inspection a tangible sense of purpose and optimism among the governor and his senior management team, which were having a galvanising effect on the staff group as a whole. Leaders had a plan for where they wanted to take the prison, and had introduced a number of helpful initiatives with more planned. Nevertheless, the complexities of the prison mean that its leadership will continue to need significant external support from HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) if Pentonville is to deliver acceptable and consistent outcomes for prisoners.


Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM

March 2017

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Pentonville

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