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14 Jun 2017

Howard League responds to Pentonville prison inspection

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Pentonville prison, published today (Wednesday 14 June).

Inspectors visited the London prison in January and found that it had suffered from years of underinvestment and remained unsafe. It was designated to accommodate 906 men at the time of the inspection, but it was actually holding 1,230.

The inspection team arrived after a tumultuous few months in Pentonville, which included a homicide and two prisoner escapes.

Five men had lost their lives through suicide since the previous inspection – and the toll does not end there. In the five months between the inspection and the publication of today’s report, the Howard League has been notified of the deaths by suicide of a further two men in Pentonville.

Violence was high. There had been 196 assaults on staff and prisoners in only six months. Some incidents involved weapons. Seventy per cent of prisoners said that they had felt unsafe at some time.

One in five men was taking anti-psychotic drugs at the time of the inspection. In 2016, 111 patients were transferred or listed for transfer to a secure mental health unit – the largest number of psychiatric transfers that the inspectorate has ever encountered. Half of these men had waited longer than the transfer target of two weeks, and one had waited for 169 days, a delay described as “totally unacceptable” by inspectors.

Prisoners who were unemployed had only two-and-a-half hours a day out of their cell, with some men receiving even less, but inspectors found that there had been a clear focus on improving the prison’s regime. Resettlement work had also improved.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “One of the first documents to land on the desk of the incoming Secretary of State for Justice is a disappointing report on Pentonville prison, as was the case when his predecessor-but-one, Michael Gove, assumed the position less than two years ago.

“That so little has changed in that time only serves to illustrate the scale of the challenge, and the need for urgency to resolve the many problems in our failing prison system.

“The new government must take bold but sensible action to put less pressure on prisons such as Pentonville. By reducing the prison population, we can prevent more people being swept into deeper currents of crime, violence and despair.”

In the last year the Howard League legal team has been contacted about serious violent assaults in Pentonville, including sexual assaults and physical assaults that required hospital treatment.

Research published by the Howard League has shown that 5,536 additional days of imprisonment were imposed on men in Pentonville for breaking prison rules in 2015.

The charity’s report, A Million Days: The world of prison discipline, revealed how prisons across England and Wales were increasingly resorting to draconian punishments in a desperate and counter-productive attempt to keep control.

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.
  1. The Howard League’s report, A Million Days: The world of prison discipline, can be found on the charity’s website.
  1. A copy of the Pentonville prison inspection report will be available from Wednesday 14 June on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.


Rob Preece
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