HMIP Inspections of Wormwood Scrubs

The prison was given an inspection in the September/October 2019, 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 Wormwood Scrubs, built in the late nineteenth century, is one of the country’s most famous prisons. Holding just over 1,000 prisoners, the establishment is a local and resettlement facility serving the capital. At this announced inspection, we found that outcomes for prisoners in our healthy prison tests of safety, purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning (RRP) were not sufficiently good, but were reasonably good in respect. Clearly there remains much to do to ensure that Wormwood Scrubs delivers acceptable outcomes consistently for those detained. In the context of this inspection, however, it should be acknowledged that these assessments describe a prison that is much improved from the institution we inspected in the summer of 2017. At that time, we found a prison that could only be described accurately as being in a state of crisis, with poor outcomes in safety and RRP, and insufficiently good outcomes in respect and purposeful activity.

Had our formal Urgent Notification (UN) process, which was then still in development, been available to us following the 2017 inspection, it would most assuredly have been invoked. Notwithstanding, I still thought it correct to write to the then Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) on 16 August 2017, drawing to his attention the urgency of the prison’s predicament. I received an immediate reply, which included a commitment to improve standards at Wormwood Scrubs by using our report as a model for testing how HMPPS would respond to future UNs. What we saw at this inspection suggests HMPPS had made considerable efforts to meet that commitment.

Much was now being done to make the prison safer, but this work was often not sufficiently embedded to have yet made enough difference to outcomes. For example, in our survey over a third of prisoners still reported feeling unsafe and recorded violence had increased, although there were fewer serious incidents than at comparable prisons. A good safety strategy had been introduced, with meaningful work being undertaken to investigate most incidents and with reasonable multidisciplinary oversight. New work was planned to challenge gang culture but there was perhaps too much use of formal disciplinary procedures, and case management of perpetrators and victims of violence was weak. Work to incentivise prisoners was also still too limited.

Use of force had increased, although much was relatively minor and oversight was improving. The segregation unit was being proactively managed, but good plans had yet to be fully implemented. There had been much good work undertaken to improve security, including better CCTV coverage and better use of technology. There was some evidence that the use of illicit drugs was reducing, although the oversight and delivery of drug testing, and the coordination of a wider drug strategy, needed to improve.

Since we last inspected there had been four self-inflicted deaths and one homicide. Some recommendations made by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman following their investigations into deaths were still outstanding, and the prison had been too slow to address this area of risk. The level of self-harm was high, although similar to other prisons. Since the beginning of 2019, however, work to ensure the safety of those at risk of self-harm had improved markedly and this progress needed to be sustained.

The prison was a more respectful place with generally satisfactory, if inconsistent, staff-prisoner relationships and interaction. Better supervision of staff on the wings had assisted in this regard although key worker arrangements were not yet working well enough. Reasonably good peer mentoring structures and consultation arrangements, as well as an improving approach to the management of applications and complaints, were assisting in building prisoner confidence. The prison environment and the quality and cleanliness of cells were much improved, although some cells were still overcrowded. Work to promote equality and diversity had similarly improved, supported by good oversight and motivated peer supporters. However, more was required to embed these improvements and ensure sufficient attention across all the protected characteristics. Health services outcomes were generally good, but care for those with long-term conditions was insufficient.

Time out of cell remained inadequate, with nearly 40% of prisoners locked up during the working day. Enough activity was theoretically available, sufficient for all prisoners to have at least part-time activity, but attendance was too often poor, especially in education. More needed to be done to support the acquisition of skills in mathematics, English and vocational qualifications in industrial workshops. Vocational training was, however, better. Our colleagues in Ofsted reported improvements to the provision but still assessed overall effectiveness as ‘requires improvement’.

The prison’s approach to rehabilitation and release planning was also improving. Coordination was better, as was prisoners’ contact with offender managers (POMs), although risk and needs assessments (OASys) were too often incomplete or out of date. Procedures to support home detention curfew (HDC) and recategorization were robust. Public protection measures had improved and were mostly effective, but we identified a few high-risk cases where release planning arrangements were inadequate. Resettlement planning was generally satisfactory.

This is, overall, an encouraging report. Unlike our visit two years ago, we found a more settled prison where both staff and prisoners were more positive about the establishment. The governor and the senior management team had risen to the considerable challenges of managing a prison like Wormwood Scrubs. They had effectively analysed the problems in the prison and were remedying them in a measured and thoughtful way. They acknowledged the good support they had received from HMPPS and were looking to embed the progress they had made. While impressive, however, that progress remained fragile. This is not the time to relax management grip or dilute HMPPS’ support for a team of managers who have shown what it takes to start turning around a historically difficult prison.

We leave the prison with a number of recommendations which we hope will assist continued progress and intend to return within the year to undertake an independent review of progress (IRP)


Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Wormwood Scrubs

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