HMIP Inspections of Wormwood Scrubs

The prison was given an inspection in the June 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:

Wormwood Scrubs is a famous, category B, men’s local prison in west London that held just over 1,000 prisoners at the time of our inspection, of whom a third were foreign nationals, more than half were black, Asian or minority ethnic and two-thirds were unsentenced. It has had a troubled recent history culminating in our 2017 inspection, when we described the ‘intractability and persistence of failure at this prison’. When inspectors returned in 2019, they found a much[1]improved situation and I am pleased to say that this report shows that progress in many areas has been maintained. The prison feels calm and well-ordered and inspectors who knew the prison well noted a better atmosphere than in the past.

The prison was safer than at our last inspection. Assaults on staff and the use of force had continued to fall, while the rate of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults was one of the lowest of all local prisons. Data, though routinely collected, was not being used to analyse patterns of violence and create plans to achieve further progress in a prison that often saw gang and crime-related issues imported from the community. Reductions in violence were at least partly due to the fact that most prisoners had been locked in their cells for 23 hours a day and were at the expense of access to work, education and time to socialise. This was compounded for the 118 prisoners who had to share cramped, often ill-ventilated cells that were designed for one person, though the welcome introduction of in-cell telephones had at least allowed them to stay in regular touch with family and friends. Leaders at Wormwood Scrubs had not shown the ambition that we have seen elsewhere in increasing the amount of time prisoners were spending out of their cells.

With the support of the prison service, leaders have put much effort into improving the infrastructure of the prison with ongoing improvements to windows, serveries, the visits hall and showers. Officers were rightly proud of the cleanliness of their wings which, considering the churn in prison population, was mostly good.

It has always been difficult to recruit and retain staff members at this jail and at the time of inspection there was a large proportion of recently recruited officers who had not yet experienced anything like a normal regime. Staff training had fallen behind during the pandemic and hard work is needed to make sure that officers are fully prepared when the regime begins to open up.

The education provider had been too slow in reopening services and had done little to communicate with prisoners about the availability or range of courses. A lack of planning for a return to face-to-face education meant that classrooms were empty while prisoners were languishing behind their doors. Tutors had not made enough use of assessments to create in-cell education packs, meaning these were often of low quality and little use.

Leaders had been working to improve the quality and range of key work in the prison and, though more vulnerable prisoners were being seen regularly, there was much more to be done to make sure that every prisoner had meaningful  access. The Listener scheme (prisoners trained by the Samaritans to provide confidential emotional support to fellow prisoners) was particularly impressive and, where in some prisons this vital service had withered during the pandemic, at Wormwood Scrubs it had continued to thrive. Self-harm had reduced substantially and was already on a downward trend before the pandemic.

Overall, the prison was a much safer, cleaner and better organised prison than it had been in the past, but prisoners were locked in their cells for too long. The most important challenge facing leaders is to maintain and improve on the levels of safety, while significantly increasing the amount of time prisoners are spending out of their cells in education, training, work, leisure and rehabilitation activity.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
June 2021

Return to Wormwood Scrubs

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

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