Inspector finds dramatic increase in violence inside London prison

Alan Travis Home affairs editor
The prisons inspector has published a scathing assessment of safety at Wormwood Scrubs. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

Patrol dogs, body-worn cameras for staff and extra CCTV have been urgently drafted into Wormwood Scrubs jail in London after the chief inspector of prisons found high levels of serious violence, including 90 attacks on staff in six months.

The chief inspector, Peter Clarke, who inspected the west London prison in July and August, found “an extremely concerning picture” with the jail still suffering from “intractable failings” that had persisted since previous inspections dating back to 2014.

In his report, published on Friday, Clarke said that serious violence leading to significant injuries was a particular concern, with a dramatic increase in assaults on staff in the previous six months.

The report follows an earlier one this week that described a trailblazing “reform” jail, Holme House near Stockton-on-Tees, as awash with drugs – with a third of the prisoners testing positive for psychoactive substances and other drugs.

Peter Clarke, the chief inspector of prisons.

Clarke said that at the Scrubs – a Victorian jail in Shepherd’s Bush holding 1,227 men, more than half of whom are from a black or minority ethnic background – some efforts were made to improve the physical environment, but the prison was struggling to provide decent conditions.

“Too many men were locked up for significant periods of the day, often as long as 23 hours,” the report said.

“Resettlement and offender management work was fundamentally failing and the prison was not meeting one of its key aims of supporting men to understand and address their offending behaviour and risk.”

It added that 41% of prisoners were locked in their cells during the working day. Drugs were said to be “very accessible”.

Clarke said staffing shortages were pervasive and led to a failure to deliver even basic services: “We saw large, challenging wings being run by groups of relatively junior staff, some of whom lacked the confidence to challenge the men in their care adequately.” Inspectors saw prisoners jumping between landings to avoid being locked up.

Clarke said a recovery plan was urgently needed for the jail: “Overall, this was an extremely concerning picture, and we could see no justification as to why this poor situation had persisted since 2014.

“The governor and his team were, to their credit, working tirelessly to address the problems faced … this was commendable. But we were not confident that they could deliver improvement to outcomes without considerable additional external support.”

The prison conducted a full review of safety following the inspection and body-worn cameras, patrol dogs and extra CCTV were introduced to tackle the violence.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “HMP Wormwood Scrubs has taken decisive action to reduce violence, and is working closely with [contracted works provider] Carillion to urgently improve conditions at the prison.

“We know staffing remains an issue, so we are recruiting 120 extra officers and will cut the time taken for new recruits to begin training.

“The addition of new, senior probation staff has also led to significant improvements in resettling offenders into the community following release.”