Pentonville moves to seal off drug smuggling routes
Higher wall and new fence planned to keep out prison contraband
24 February, 2017 — By Joe Cooper
Pink ropes used by drugs smugglers dangle from the prison walls as a workman repairs windows
A HIGHER wall and new fence are to be built at Pentonville Prison to cut the amount of drugs and weapons being smuggled to prisoners.
A planning application has been lodged with the Town Hall to build a metal fence at the Wheelwright Street boundary, extend the retaining wall and remove a lay-by. Repairs to the prison windows began last week.
Islington Council community safety boss Councillor Andy Hull and senior council chiefs met prison governor Kevin Reilly at the end of last year after a series of high-profile incidents, including escapes by two prisoners and the fatal stabbing of another. They discussed ways of tackling the prison’s significant problems.
Last year, there were five stabbings, five suicides and 20 fires within the prison walls.
Damning reports from the Prisons Inspectorate have detailed a huge rise in violent incidents, drugs being freely available, overcrowding and a chronic lack of staff.
Cllr Hull said experts from the police, council and the prison had already taken a number of measures to cut the amount of contraband getting into Pentonville, with positive results. He was not in a position to elaborate for security reasons.
But that has not stopped all attempts to get contraband into the prison. Pink ropes could be seen dangling from its walls in Wheelwright Street on Friday morning.
A man was seen running away from the Caledonian Road prison the night before after throwing two packages of contraband over the wall.
A prison service spokeswoman said: “Staff at HMP Pentonville successfully stopped an item of contraband from getting into the prison. This matter will be referred to the police for investigation.”
Cllr Hull said: “The council was understandably exercised by the news reports coming out of Pentonville. It is clear that there are significant challenges at the prison and we wanted to ask Mr Reilly what we could do to help. We want to make the prison as safe as possible for inmates, staff and its neighbours.”
Cllr Hull said he welcomed government funding to pay for improvements to wall and fences at Pentonville but was clear that the underlying problems at the prison were due to lack of cash.
The number of prison officers working there has fallen from 300 to around 200 in the past four years, and at one point was as low as 168 for a prison population of more than 1,300.
Recruitment and retention of staff is still a “massive issue”, Dave Todd, Prison Officers’ Association representative for London and Kent, said. “More people will get hurt unless the government does what it ought to do and invest the money this requires,” Cllr Hull added.
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “We have announced a major shake-up of the prison system, with 2,500 extra prison officers and new security measures to tackle drones, phones and drugs to help make prisons places of safety and reform.”