Wandsworth Prison overcrowding puts workers at increased risk of violence says Tooting MP Sadiq Khan

By Naomi Agius

Wandsworth Prison workers may face an increased risk of violence from prisoners due to dangerously overcrowded prison cells, says Tooting Labour MP and Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan.

Mr Khan’s claims came after a decision to squeeze 400 inmates into 40 publicly-run jails in the next few weeks, including Wandsworth, of which all but six are already running at full or exceeded capacity.

Wandsworth Prison, which should have 963 prisoners, currently has a population of 1628 and is running at 169% capacity.

“There are shortages of both prison officers and spaces in our jails as a result of this Government’s decision to close down 17 prisons and let too many staff go,” said Mr Khan.

“Because of this incompetence, the Chief Inspector of Prisons has said he is very concerned at what might happen in our prisons in the coming months.”

Last week, Mr Khan criticised the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, for rejecting assertions by Nick Hardwick, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, that the prison system is in the grips of a dangerous overcrowding crisis.

Mr Hardwick had said spending cuts have resulted in the system being so stretched that inmates are killing themselves or deliberately getting sent to punishment blocks to escape dire conditions.

Mr Khan also expressed his fears that jails are becoming “unsafe warehouses” with increasing rates of suicide, self-harm and rioting, due to severe overcrowding.

He said that more than 600 emergency prison places have been bought from G4S, Serco and Sodexo in the last five months and staff who have been made redundant are now being paid to return to work due to the “chronic shortage of staff”.

“Already we’ve seen Ministers resort to keeping prisoners in police cells and buying in expensive emergency places from private prisons to shore up their desperate position.

“Their latest panicky measure is to stuff more and more prisoners into already dangerously overcrowded prison cells such as at Wandsworth. But already Wandsworth has many more prisoners squeezed into it than it is designed to cope with – a quart into a pint pot won’t go.”

He also voiced his concern at figures which show that last month alone, 11 self-inflicted deaths occurred in prisons throughout the country and the 60% rise in the use of the riot squad to deal with serious disturbances in prisons last year.

“What worries me is that those who work at the jail face the increased risk of violence as a result of shoving in more prisoners. And, what’s more, this type of environment will do nothing to rehabilitate prisoners or to reduce crime.

“Instead it will see the threat of violence increase and prisoners festering away their days locked in the cells instead of on courses or being put to work.”

Mr Grayling said while spaces have become tighter in recent weeks, the Government is already creating 2,000 extra prison places which will be in place by next April.

Photo courtesy of Derek Harper, with thanks.
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