Living conditions at Wandsworth Prison were described as totally unacceptable by a report from the prison’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB).
The board praised the prison’s governor, Graham Barrett, and staff for their response to the Covid-19 lockdown and their commitment in challenging conditions.
Nevertheless the report, which covers the period of June 2019 to May 2020, expressed serious concerns about the resettlement provisions and the mental health of prisoners.
IMB Chair Elizabeth Barker said: “Our board praises the Governor and his staff for their efforts to provide a decent and humane environment for all the prisoners.
“However, the prison would be better able to serve its rehabilitative function if men were housed in civilised conditions and they all received the support, education and activities they needed during imprisonment to prepare them for release back into society. This would also benefit their mental health.”
The report noted that each month, over 300 prisoners were referred to mental health services and pointed out that only one in four prisoners had work, training or education prepared for their discharge, with less than one in five given housing referrals.
The board acknowledged the serious challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, and argued that prisoners were treated as well as possible considering their living conditions, adding that healthcare was provided effectively throughout the prison.
However, the lockdown earlier this year meant that prisoners were confined for 23 hours a day in cramped, often double-occupancy cells, something families claimed was detrimental to their mental health.
This was said to be exacerbated by a lack of visitors being allowed into the prison, with visits now being allowed on a limited basis.
The board said it could not describe the prison as safe, citing reports of 270 prisoner-on-officer assaults, 352 prisoner-on-prisoner assaults and 774 incidents of self-harm, but did acknowledge that the staff had introduced many initiatives and programmes to improve conditions which contributed to violence.
A prison spokesperson said: “We have taken action to address the concerns raised in this report and refurbishment work is already underway.
“An x-ray scanner – brought in last month as part of a £100 million security investment – is stopping drugs and mobile phones getting in. We are also working closely with the police and increasing patrols to stop throw overs.”
They added that preventing contraband getting into the prison was an important step in reducing prison violence.
The spokesperson also said that refurbishments were ongoing to improve the living conditions of prisoners, that it had replaced the subcontractor responsible for resettlement.
Approximately 1600 men reside in Wandsworth Prison across five wings, and more information can be found at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/wandsworth-prison.