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3 Sep 2014

Wormwood Scrubs: Yet more evidence of a prison system in meltdown

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Wormwood Scrubs, published today (Wednesday 3 September).

Inspectors found Wormwood Scrubs to be a filthy, overcrowded and dilapidated prison plagued by violence and inactivity.

There were five suicides at the prison in 2013 alone, and inspectors found that repeated recommendations by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman concerning suicide and self-harm had yet to be implemented.

Almost half of prisoners surveyed said they had felt unsafe at some point during their time in the prison. More than one-third reported victimisation by staff.

Many prisoners received only two hours out of their cells each day. More than 40 per cent of prisoners were locked up during the working day with nothing to do. There were too few activity places – sufficient for only half the population – and administrative failures meant that many prisoners attending learning and skills activities were not paid for long periods.

Only one in 10 prisoners said that they had been helped to prepare for release. During the previous three months, more than one-fifth of prisoners had been released without a suitable address.

Research by the Howard League has found that the number of prison officers in Wormwood Scrubs was cut by 35 per cent in almost four years – from 310 at the end of August 2010 to 200 at the end of June 2014.

Over the same period, the prison population increased by 8 per cent – from 1,170 to 1,258.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The Ministry of Justice’s policies are causing chaos and crisis in prisons. People are dying and staff are put in danger as a result. The long-term consequence will be increased crime inflicted on us all when prisoners are released after a period of isolation and inactivity in stinking cells, resentful and impecunious. Prisons have gone into meltdown in the last year and it is a direct result of government policy. I have never seen a public service deteriorate so rapidly and so profoundly.

“I understand that staff were being taken out of Wormwood Scrubs to cover for staff cuts at other prisons until it was realised that the resulting restricted regime would be revealed by HM Inspectors, so now staff are being taken out of other prisons to cover for the cuts in Wormwood Scrubs. The Ministry of Justice trumpeted the establishment of a pool of staff who had just been given expensive early retirement who could re-enter the service, but this has been an abject failure with only 10 people being re-recruited in London. The plan now is to recruit in the north of the country and move staff down, putting them up in hotels in London. Wormwood Scrubs is the latest report in a litany of 10: Glen Parva, Isis, Hindley, Doncaster, Preston, Ranby, Gartree, Winchester and Bedford. This is not one prison with problems, this is a public service in meltdown.”

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. A copy of the Wormwood Scrubs inspection report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.
  3. The scale of prison staffing cuts across England and Wales is shown in the Howard League’s research briefing paper, Breaking point: Understaffing and overcrowding in prisons.


Rob Preece
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