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The prison of recent escape: 1900 litres of ‘alcohol’ and rising assaults on staff, as ‘inhumane’ conditions laid bare

HMP Wandsworth prison escape

Inmates at a south-west London prison at the focus of a recent escape crisis unlawfully brewed 1,900 litres of booze with just half of the guards on-duty to maintain watch.

Inspections at the “inhumane” HMP Wandsworth between June 2022 and May 2023 saw convicts forced to wait days for showers and regular exercise, while the bulk of men are forced to share single cells with damaged furniture and inadequate heating.

According to an Independent Monitoring Boards assessment, staff were failing to offer even a basic routine, and the Category B prison had seen a 25% rise in the number of attacks, with 10 recorded against staff each week.

Daniel Khalife escaped from HMP Wandsworth
Daniel Khalife is charged with escaping from custody at Wandsworth Prison (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Meanwhile, two wings only had 11 shower stalls available for 265 men, who were given a one-hour time window to get in line and use the washrooms.

A terror suspect reportedly escaped from HMP Wandsworth under a delivery vehicle, resulting in a six-day countrywide manhunt. It was eventually revealed that 80 officers failed to turn up for work on the day Daniel Khalife escaped, prompting the government to set up an independent inquiry.

Other key findings in the report include:

  • Prisoner-on-staff attacks increased by 21%, while incidences of self-harm increased by 11%, with four deaths transpiring. Three of these were self-inflicted, and the Prison and Probation Ombudsman is presently investigating them.
  • During the winter months, the jail was regularly without hot water or heating, with recurrent flooding of cells disturbing whole wings.
  • Despite having a projected launch date of October 2021, a new multi-million pound healthcare centre remains unopened.
  • A vulnerable teenage prisoner with mental health difficulties was held in the segregation unit for nearly 550 days before being moved to Broadmoor Hospital, which the Board called “inhumane and unacceptable.”

In addition to confiscating illegally brewed alcohol from inmates, contraband remained a concern, with over 330 mobile phones and 210 drugs stashes seized.

HMP Wandsworth is overcrowded
The Victorian-era building is chronically overcrowded and suffers a high staff turnover (Image: PA)

Due to a lack of staff, the institution is “severely limited” in its capacity to block the entry of unlawful items, with drones and “throw overs” identified as the primary sources of entry. Because the total CCTV system has degraded, security is now exclusively based on officers’ observations.

The use of force against convicts has also grown by 49%, with body-worn cameras capturing just 73% of events.

Owing to high staff turnover, inexperienced personnel with little or no training were forced to work without supervision, while the library, gym, and inductions for inmates were cancelled due to a lack of staff.

One inmate informed the Board that during his eight-month stay at the prison, he had 87 days without hot water, 89 days without being permitted outside, and just five library trips when he should have had one per week.

Chronic overcrowding was also seen as a severe issue at the Victorian-era structure, with Wandsworth jail “yet to see the benefit” of a £3.8 billion investment to provide 20,000 extra uncrowded prison spaces.

It was also discovered that processing immigrants and asylum seekers was taking too long, with more than half of the 228 males detained under immigration authority still awaiting an outcome after more than 300 days.

Describing the shower situation on G and H wings as “appalling, unhygienic and unacceptable”, the Board said that daily showers were not an option due to a lack of stalls.

Inmates were only provided with one-hour to queue, with officers remarking that men missed their slot if they did not queue, but by queuing they missed the opportunity to do anything else during their social hour.

The prison’s violence has also escalated, with almost ten instances against employees reported each week. (Image: Sky News)

Smashed toilets and sinks caused regular floods, while shattered windows exacerbated the vermin problem, since birds and rats posed a severe health concern to the institution.

Despite this, the food was regarded as “various and tasty,” with the Board receiving few complaints, and an improved distribution system was implemented in May.

There was a three-month delay in returning valuables and a backlog in delivering parcel post and things provided by family members due to personnel shortages. Poor property communication caused “considerable and avoidable stress and frustration” among both family and convicts.

“Delivering a full, safe regime in a prison with under half its staff present is virtually impossible” the report read. “The Board wished to emphasise its support for the management team who were under extreme pressure to deliver against generally unrealistic HMPPS targets without sufficient staff.

“However the regime remains unacceptable and will continue to do so until the prison reaches its planned level of staff availability.”

IMB Chair, Tim Aikens, said: “Recent events at Wandsworth have demonstrated the shortcomings of the prison system that the IMB has been highlighting repeatedly for many years.

“Prisoners are being failed and most have a severely reduced chance of rehabilitation upon release. We are told there is significant investment in the prison system, but we see little evidence of this in Wandsworth.”

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