HMIP Inspections of Wandsworth

The prison was given an inspection in early February-March 2018, 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 Wandsworth is a category B local prison in south London, with a category C resettlement unit. It holds 1,428 men, and is one of the most over crowded prisons in England and Wales. However, that does not tell the full story of the challenges faced by the prison. At the time of this inspection, 36% of the prisoners were receiving psychosocial help for substance misuse problems, 40% told us it was easy to get illicit drugs, and 450 referrals were made to the mental health team each month. Meanwhile, 42% of the men were locked in their cells during the working day and this was no doubt, at least in part, because there were only enough full-time activity places for around a third of the population. In essence, there were too many prisoners, many with drug-related or mental health issues, and with not enough to do. This is of course an all too familiar story, but it must not be forgotten that more than 100 prisoners every month were being released into the community. How much better could their prospects, and those of the communities into which they were released ,have been if their time in prison had been spent in more decent conditions?

The full complexity of the prison can only be fully appreciated by reading the detail of this report, but there are some important themes that we found were having an influence on many of our judgements.

For instance, there appeared to be a long-standing culture of not recording or analysing data to understand what was happening and to drive improvement. This was reflected in an obvious gap between the intentions of senior managers and what was actually happening on the wings. The governor and her team clearly had a determination to make improvements and to address issues of culture, but they were realistic enough to appreciate that much hard work lay ahead of them. The governor described the prison as being on a ‘long journey’, and she will need the consistent support of all her staff to secure the much-needed improvements.

It was good to see that the senior team saw the influx of new staff in an unequivocally positive light. Whereas in some prisons I have been told that new staff are a challenge because they lack the experience and confidence to be effective, at Wandsworth I was told very clearly that the new staff were seen as giving the prison a real opportunity to improve. This was not simply because there would be more staff to supervise and respond to the needs of prisoners, but because they could bring a new and fresh culture into the prison.

That cultural change is needed cannot be doubted. Despite the fact that there had been six self-inflicted deaths since the last inspection, it was concerning to find that not all staff were carrying anti-ligature knives, that no staff would enter a cell alone – even if a prisoner’s life was in danger – and that the response to cell call bells was totally inadequate. This latter point was not due to a lack of staff. I personally saw cell call bells going unanswered while groups of prison officers were gathered in wing offices and not responding. In our survey , only 11% of prisoners said that bells were answered within five minutes. Clearly, not every use of a cell bell is properly justified, but the apparent assumption by staff that they were being misused and therefore did not warrant a response is dangerous. At the very least there should be a proper strategy to triage response and deal with regular misuse.

The living conditions at Wandsworth were what we see all too frequently in older, overcrowded prisons. Cells designed for one prisoner were occupied by two, with poorly screened lavatories and the prisoners confined in them for far too long each day. However, there was an extensive programme of refurbishment underway which, while it would not in itself reduce overcrowding, would at least make living conditions a little more acceptable. The newly refurbished but as yet unoccupied cells that I saw were cleaner and brighter that before, the lavatories had lids and the showers on those landings were a great deal better than the mouldy, leaking and dirty ones elsewhere in the prison. The change in culture to which I have referred also extends to developing an intolerance on the part of both staff and prisoners to dirt and grime. A really powerful signal might be for the staff to deal with the dirty and untidy wing offices that I saw throughout the jail, and to encourage the prisoners to take pride in their surroundings.

In common with many other prisons of this type, prisoners at Wandsworth had far too little time out of their cells. As mentioned above, we found that some 42% were locked in their cells during the working day. This, combined with Ofsted’s finding that the overall effectiveness of learning, skills and work, and the achievement of prisoners engaged in it, was inadequate, made it inevitable that the area of purposeful activity was assessed as ‘poor’. It should also be noted that at the last inspection we made 13 recommendations to improve purposeful activity. On this occasion, we found that none of those recommendations had been achieved. In light of this, it was therefore reassuring to find that there had been some real progress made in the area of rehabilitation and release planning, which we found to be reasonably good. Public protection procedures were generally well managed, and it was good to see that the timeliness of procedures for home detention curfew (HDC) had also recently improved. As with other areas of activity at Wandsworth, there was still a need to use data more effectively. Here, it was to help understand more clearly the effectiveness of what was being done for prisoners prior to their release.

It was quite clear that there was a very real determination on the part of many dedicated staff at Wandsworth to make positive progress at this well-known and important prison. The influx of new staff is a real opportunity, and it is vital that the governor should be fully supported both from within the prison and by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) more broadly as she embarks on the ‘long journey’ of improvement at the establishment.


Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
May 2018
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: