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Inmates ‘unable to shower’ due to prison staffing crisis

Shortage of officers to supervise prisoners puts Pentonville ‘on the brink’ as coronavirus exposes recruitment problems

28 August, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Pentonville is intended to hold no more than 694 men – a count this week found there were 1,019 inmates

STAFFING levels in Pentonville are “on the brink” with prisoners being forced to go for days without a shower as there is no one to monitor them, a union leader has warned.

Prison Officers Association (PAO) committee member Dave Cook said that inmates at the Caledonian Road jail are on a regime that only allows them to shower once every three days, while many are locked up for 23 hours a day after strict measures were brought in to curb a coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Cook, who leads on all London prisons, said that the pandemic had laid bare the recruitment crisis many prisons face and that if any more staff were to leave Pentonville it would lead to inmates only being allowed to wash once a week.

“Pentonville is on the brink on the staffing side,” Mr Cook said. “If they lose staff then prisoners would be down to one shower every six days, you could not defend that as decent. The last figures I saw there were 43 staff positions vacant.”

Pentonville is supposed to hold no more than 694 men, but a roll count this week found there were 1,019 inmates with about 470 members of staff.

Mr Cook said: “Prisoners are normally free to shower when they want, but because of staffing controls and Covid procedures we must ensure social distancing and prisoners only mix in their bubble.

“I fear for what might happen if we were to lose staff. If a member of staff tested positive for Covid, then track and trace would take over and then how many staff would be sent off to self-isolate? It’s not in Pentonville yet but in other establishments we have had large numbers of staff sent off.”

As the Tribune previously revealed, a damning report was published in March that stated assaults on staff had risen by more than 30 per cent while there had been three suicides in the past year.

Prison’s minister Lucy Frazer said at the time that she was “confident” the prison could be stabilised through “additional staff, enhanced training, and X-ray-style security”.

A Prison Service spokesman said: “We put plans in place to protect prison staff and prisoners from coronavirus and reduce the impact a significant outbreak could have on local hospitals. As a result, no staff or prisoners have tested positive at HMP Pentonville since April. Our success in controlling infection rates means the prison is now easing restrictions and remains able to cope with staff absence.”

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