HMIP Inspections of Wandsworth

The prison was given an inspection in September 2021, 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:

“The decision by the prison service to reduce the number of prisoners held at Wandsworth by 300, as well as the work of the dynamic and experienced governor, had stopped this busy local prison from being overwhelmed by its many challenges.

There were not enough staff to make sure prisoners received even the most basic regime; for example, they sometimes had to choose between exercise, ordering from the kiosk and having a shower. Gym sessions were regularly cancelled and much of the essential resettlement and sentence progression work was not happening because prison offender managers and PE staff were deployed on the wings to backfill staff absences. One group of prisoners from Trinity Unit, who came blinking into the sunlight, told me that it was the first time they had been outside for more than a week.

The education provider had failed to do enough to engage prisoners or develop learning opportunities for a population that was desperately bored. The education block had sat unused since March 2020 and most of the very limited provision came in the form of work packs. Education staff were barely doing any face-to-face teaching, so it was not entirely clear how their time was being spent.

Nearly half of the prisoners were foreign nationals, many of whom come from eastern Europe. The prison, the education service and, in particular, Home Office staff, were not doing enough to support this group of prisoners. There were 37 prisoners over their tariff waiting for a decision on when or if they would be deported. Some foreign national prisoners had even been told on the day of their release that they were to continue to be held in the jail. A local charity, BEST, had stayed on site during the pandemic and were doing invaluable work in supporting foreign national prisoners while, inexplicably, Home Office staff had absented themselves from the prison for more than a year. In the meantime, prison officers and other staff had to deal with the consequences of their inaction. Even since Home Office staff had returned, working what appeared to be limited hours, they were not running surgeries on the wing and prisoners were lucky if they got a phone call.

The infrastructure of the jail needed a lot of work: cells and landings were often tatty, some of the showers were awful and outside areas were strewn with rubbish. The inpatient mental health unit, due to be refurbished, was not a fit place to care for seriously unwell patients. Fortunately, there had also been some impressive improvements: the legal visits and video conferencing took place in an excellent facility and the visits hall had been decorated with prisoner-painted murals.

Communication between the governor through a range of media (including Radio Wanno) had meant that prisoners were kept well informed about the pandemic and any developments in the prison. This may have contributed to the generally calm atmosphere in the jail – which we witnessed – despite the paucity of the regime. Interactions between officers and prisoners were, because of staffing shortages, largely transactional. Key work was very limited, although prisoners recognised that often staff were trying to do their best.

Understandably, the governor had been focused on keeping the day-to-day functions of the prison going as he dealt with the extensive list of challenges that we highlight in this report. He now has the opportunity, with an improving leadership team, to put in more robust assurance systems around some crucial functions such as use of force, safeguarding and violence reduction. There had been nine self-inflicted deaths since our last inspection. The prison must continue to respond to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman’s reports to make sure that everything is done to reduce the risk to the most vulnerable prisoners.

As some of the concerns about the pandemic begins to reduce, leaders will have the opportunity to focus on developing longer-term plans for the jail that set targets and introduce effective systems for monitoring and review. This will mean that some of the more complex concerns can be addressed, such as the regime (including access to work and education), the support for foreign national prisoners and the development of the staff team.

Leaders in this crumbling, overcrowded, vermin-infested prison will need considerable ongoing support from the prison service, notably with the recruitment and retention of staff, improving the infrastructure of the jail and making sure that external agencies such as the Home Office and the education provider pull their weight. It is hard to see how HMP Wandsworth’s limited progress can be sustained if prisoner numbers in this jail are allowed to increase as they are scheduled to do next April.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
October 2021

Return to Wandsworth

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

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