HMIP Inspections of Wormwood Scrubs

The prison was given an inspection in the Summer of 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:

Wormwood Scrubs is an iconic local prison serving communities in London. A key responsibility of the prison is the resettlement and reintegration of the 1,227 men it holds, with many recently remanded or sentenced and others reaching the end of their sentences. Reflecting its catchment area, the population is diverse, with over half being from a black and minority ethnic background, a third being foreign nationals, and 83 being young adults under the age of 21. It was also the case that the population presented with significant personal needs and vulnerabilities.

This announced inspection followed our previous visits in December 2015 and May 2014, and on both occasions we raised very serious concerns across our healthy prison assessments and commented on the lack of progress in improving outcomes for those detained. Following this inspection we report again on the intractability and persistence of failure at this prison, notwithstanding the hard work of the governor and his staff to try to make some difference. As we have reported before, outcomes for prisoners were not good enough in any of our assessments, and in two assessments outcomes remained poor.

The prison was still not safe enough, with high levels of often serious violence. It would be wrong to say that there had been no work to try to improve the situation, yet in our survey prisoners told us they felt less safe than at our last visit. There had also been three self-inflicted deaths since our last visit, but care for men vulnerable to self-harm was poor. Despite some efforts to improve the physical environment and offer more purposeful activity, prisoners faced real daily frustrations and the prison struggled to provide decent conditions. Equality and diversity work was poor, and too many men were locked up for significant periods of the day, often as long as 23 hours. Resettlement and offender management work was fundamentally failing and the prison was not meeting one of its key aims of supporting men to understand and address their offending behaviour and risk. The quality of public protection work was also not good enough.

Some progress had been made. Early days support had improved, and first night substance misuse support was now appropriate and safe. Oversight of the use of force was better and, while use of force was high, what we saw was proportionate. The segregation unit did reasonably well with some very challenging men. Staff–prisoner relationships remained basically sound and, in our judgement, staff were remarkably stoic despite the pressures they were under. Health care provision was reasonably good, and effort had been made to make daily routines more predictable. There were now more purposeful activity places, and leadership and management and learning outcomes had improved somewhat, although from a very low base. That said, we found 44% of prisoners locked in cell during the working day.

Some key themes were evident in the problems we saw. Staffing shortages were pervasive, and resulted in significant staff redeployment and a failure to deliver even basic services. We were told of chronic problems experienced in recruiting new staff, and a large number of more experienced staff had left. We saw large, challenging wings being run by groups of relatively junior staff, some of whom lacked the confidence to challenge the men in their care adequately. Some key contracted providers were not delivering services effectively. There were long delays in Carillion carrying out maintenance tasks, and the prison stores had not been open for many weeks, leaving staff to scavenge for many basic items needed by prisoners. The community rehabilitation company (CRC) contract had not delivered the appropriate level of resettlement work required, which meant that many men left the prison without support. It was particularly concerning that men posing high risks of harm were not being adequately managed by probation officers.

Overall, this was an extremely concerning picture, and we could see no justification as to why this poor situation had persisted since 2014. The governor and his team were, to their credit, working tirelessly to address the problems faced. Managers understood the challenges and had made some tough choices about what they could and could not do, given the multitude of problems. This was commendable. But we were not confident that they could deliver improvement to outcomes without considerable additional external support. Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) must, in our view, engage with the governor and his team to develop a recovery plan, addressing issues of resources and contractual provision, as well as areas where the current management team and staff at Wormwood Scrubs can do better. We fear that if this does not happen, the poor picture we found at this and the previous two inspections will persist. For our part, we have made far fewer recommendations in this report than normal, to ensure that the priority actions we have identified are clear and unambiguous.


Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM

September 2017

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

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