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9 May 2024

“Deaths, drugs, despair”: Howard League responds to Urgent Notification for Wandsworth prison 

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded today (Thursday 9 May) after His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons invoked an urgent notification for Wandsworth prison.

Inspectors visited the prison, in London, in late April and early May and found conditions so concerning that the Chief Inspector, Charlie Taylor, has written to the Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk KC MP. 

The Secretary of State must respond to the Chief Inspector’s letter within 28 days, setting out an action plan for improving the prison. 

Inspectors found ongoing failings in security, severe overcrowding, vermin, drugs, violence and rising self-harm. Ten people in the prison had taken their own lives since the last inspection, with seven occurring in just the past year. 

Conditions at the prison were described as extremely concerning, with high and rising levels of violence, squalid surroundings, people locked up for over 22 hours a day and some unable to shower for five days.  

Despite a high-profile escape in September 2023, security was found to be lacking. Wings in the prison were described as chaotic, and staff were unable to account for prisoners during the day.   

Wandsworth is one of the most overcrowded prisons in the country. Designed to hold 964 in safe and decent accommodation, the prison was housing 1,513 men when inspectors visited. Eighty per cent of people in the prison were sharing cells designed for one person. 

Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.), Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The fact that the Chief Inspector has issued an Urgent Notification is not a surprise to anyone who knows someone who has lived or worked in Wandsworth prison.  This jail typifies everything that is wrong with our prison estate.

“Wandsworth currently holds 600 people over its capacity, locked in squalid cells for over 22 hours a day and unable to bathe. This is a disgrace.

“Although the Chief Inspector rightly notes problems with staffing and management, responsibility also lies with successive governments’ insatiable appetite for piling more people into prison. 

“While urgent reforms are needed at Wandsworth, the government needs to be honest with the public that treating men inhumanely, not investing in rehabilitation and then releasing most of them into homelessness, does nothing to stop crime. It only harms the people who live and work in prisons and, as reoffending rates show, ultimately does not keep us safe.”

Notes to editors 

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  2. The inspection report for Wandsworth prison is available on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at:
  3. The Wandsworth Prison Improvement Campaign (WPIC) is a grassroots community group advocating for improved conditions in the prison, you can find more about them here:   



Noor Khan 

Press and Public Affairs Officer 

Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7873 






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