Overcrowding and the problems it poses

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Following the escape of Daniel Khalife from HMP Wandsworth at the start of September, attention quickly turned to the overcrowding and understaffing in prisons that potentially contributed Khalife’s ability to escape.

Here is what Nacro had to say.

Chair of Trustees, Nick Hardwick

Chair of Nacro’s Board of Trustees and former Chief Inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick, wrote a column for The Independent, looking at how the problems in HMP Wandsworth. Read an extract below:

“When the system is chronically overcrowded, prisoners will be sent to where there is space rather than where they would best fit. And prisoners need to be fed – so when a prison is short staffed, a prisoner who appears competent and trustworthy may end up in the kitchens because they can get an essential job done. A question will be whether the operational requirements of the system as a whole and the prison took precedence over a proper risk assessment.

Overcrowding is not simply a matter of the physical space available but also whether there are sufficient staff to keep prisoners safe, secure and purposefully occupied. And this is not just a matter of treating prisoners themselves humanely – but as the Khalife case shows, it is about keeping the public safe from prisoners who need to be locked up, and being able to do the work that makes it less likely that prisoners will reoffend and create more victims when they are released.”

Read full article here

BBC Radio London interviews Helen Berresford

Director of External Engagement Helen Berresford spoke to BBC Radio London about the conditions in HMP Wandsworth and across the prison estate in general.

Helen Berresford said: “Prison’s are seeing a real challenge in staffing. There isn’t a focus on rehabilitation and people are being locked in cells for up to 23 hours a day, that really isn’t focussing on rehabilitation. Prisons need to to focus on giving people the support they need, the help they need, focus on giving them activity and a real working day. People end up in prison because of factors like substance misuse or mental health problems, people need access to the treatment that is going to help them and stop them reoffending.”

Listen to a snippet here

Or the full interview below:

Elsewhere

The current Chief Inspector of prisons Charlie Taylor rightfully first began focussing the conversation around the escape on the environment in which it became possible. He turned the lens to look at a prison estate that is overcrowded and understaffed.

He said: “The cells at Wandsworth are small, dark and cramped, with an unscreened toilet in the corner, a sink and a plastic chair. Those on the lower floors suffer from vermin and damp, while the cells on the top landings are unbearably hot during the summer.

Wandsworth has a constant churn of prisoners arriving from courts on remand or at the beginning of their sentence before they are transferred elsewhere in the system. Many of these will be prisoners caught up in a cycle of reoffending, drug addiction, homelessness and mental illness. 

Once they arrive, they are likely to be locked in their cell for up to 22 hours a day – at the time of our inspection there were nowhere near enough education or training places for the population, meaning there were long waiting lists to get onto the sort of course that might help the men get jobs on release and stop them returning to a life of crime. With nothing for prisoners to do all day, it is perhaps unsurprising that Wandsworth continues to struggle with the availability of drugs that are often the cause of the high levels of violence that are a feature of the prison.”

Read article in full here

Or for more information on prison escapes The Howard League created a helpful page, which you can see here