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Assaults on staff up 30 per cent at Pentonville

Inspectors’ report reveals ‘troubling’ scale of violence over the past year at Caledonian Road jail

13 March, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

The inspectors’ report revealed three prisoners have taken their own lives Pentonville in the past year

A DAMNING report has been published into the state of Pentonville Prison, revealing assaults on staff have risen by more than 30 per cent in the past year while three prisoners have taken their own lives.

Inspectors from the prisons’ watchdog visited the Caledonian Road jail earlier this year and in a report published yesterday (Thursday), they concluded that it was the “poorest progress we have seen” in any prison so far.

Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, said that he is “so concerned” by the state of the 178-year-old prison that he has written to the government’s justice secretary Robert Buckland.

In light of the report’s “troubling” findings, the Howard League of Penal Reform has called for a complete rethink of the government’s attitude towards prisons and probation, adding that drastic measures needed to be taken immediately to reduce the number of people behind bars.

Pentonville is supposed to hold no more than 694 men, but at the end of January, it was being asked to look after 1,081.

The prison inspection took place as part of a new process introduced by ministers who want an independent assessment of how far prisons had implemented recommendations following “particularly concerning prison inspections”.

On top of a shocking rise in violence against staff and an increase in suicides, the report, known as an Independent Review of Progress (IRP), also concluded that:

• There had been a 10 per cent increase in the overall levels of violence since the last inspection in April 2019;

• A negative attitude among certain staff indicated some deep-rooted cultural problems that got in the way of delivering positive work with prisoners;

• Nearly a third of prisoners were locked in their cells during the working day, and attendance at activities “remained poor”;

• In terms of safety, until “very recently” there had been a “lack of clear accountability at every level”;

• A culture of violence and poor behaviour “all too easily” went unpunished as prison chiefs failed to implement effective management “processes”.

Chief inspector Mr Clarke said: “I was so concerned by the findings of this IRP that I wrote to the Secretary of State expressing my serious concern at the lack of progress. I was particularly disappointed to see that in many areas little or nothing had been done until very shortly before the IRP took place.”

Inspectors, which included representatives from the education watchdog Ofsted, looked into 15 key “concerns and recommendations” that were made in the report in April last year.

The prison had made “good progress” in only one section, “reasonable progress” in three while the remaining 11 had no meaningful progress or insufficient.

Francis Crook, chief executive of the Howard League of Penal Reform, said: “This is a troubling report on a troubled prison. It sheds more light on the intolerable conditions behind Pentonville’s walls, but unfortunately, some of its recommendations are disappointing as well.

“It is time to look beyond chaotic punishment and adopt common sense instead. We have seen, in prisons such as Liverpool, the difference that can be made when there is real effort to reduce the number of people behind bars and give staff the resources that they need to do the job.

“The solution begins with a commitment to scrap short sentences and put fewer people behind bars.

“By reducing demand on prisons like Pentonville, we can start to turn lives around, protect staff, and make London safer.”

Inspectors will return to the prison later this year to conduct a full review.

Prisons Minister Lucy Frazer QC MP said: “We’ve taken immediate action to improve
HMP Pentonville by appointing a new governor and giving the prison intensive support through our new performance programme.

“I am confident this will stabilise the prison through additional staff, enhanced training, and
X-ray-style security to reduce the illicit drugs which drive violence.

“In addition, soon every offender will have a key worker to provide one-to-one support and help us identify those who are most vulnerable.”


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