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Pentonville prison still “inhumane” and sees gang fights during prayer

"Dilapidated" windows in the prison still unsafe despite warnings from the board

22 August, 2018 — By Emily Finch

The prison in Caledonian Road which celebrated 175 years in March 


PRISONERS continue to live in “inhumane” conditions at Pentonville Prison with 17 staff members assaulted in just one month, an independent monitoring board revealed today.

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB)- comprised of 20 members of the public – called on the prisons minister Rory Stewart to invest more money into the prison off Caledonian Road which houses a disproportionate number of “seriously disturbed prisoners” compared to the average prison.

The report released today (Wednesday) offers a yearly insight into the jail and paints a grim picture with several warnings. In a 12-month period up until March, the board found:

  • Frequent gang related incidents during prayer meetings with one prisoner knifed as he entered the room and ministers having to run for cover.
  • “Dilapidated” windows in the prison are still “insecure and compromise the safety of staff and prisoners” despite being flagged as unsafe by the board two years ago. The prison remains “porous” to drugs, phones and weapons.
  • External grilles on windows have not been replaced despite a recommendation by the Prison Service following a double escape in 2016 – dozens of cells have been declared out of action due to the risk.
  • Chronic understaffing has seen prisoners unable to go outside for weeks at a time to exercise or access education programmes.
  • Young adults in prison are not receiving any “intervention and support” when they first arrive in prison inhibiting their rehabilitation.

The report also says there were 1,224 men held in Pentonville while the recommended capacity  is 909 prisoners. This sees men continuing to live in “inhumane” conditions where often two men have to share a badly screened toilet in a 12 x 8 feet cell – a size similar to a spacious garden shed. The IMB report from last year also said these conditions were “not humane”.

The maximum number of prisoners the building can safely house, dubbed the “operational capacity”, was reduced from 1,320 to 1,270 following the death of Jamal Mahmoud in October 2016 after he was stabbed to death with a knife. No one has been convicted for their part in the 21-year-old’s death.

“Twelve hundred men live in a building certified to hold nine hundred. Vermin is rife. Plumbing is overloaded and struggles to decently meet the needs of hundreds of men,” said the report.

The IMB called for a change to the national policy where people in a secure mental health hospital are transferred to the nearest prison to the hospital if they have a sentence to serve or are on remand.

With the high concentration of mental health hospitals around Pentonville this policy sees the prison “hold[ing] the highest number of seriously disturbed prisoners of any local prison”.

The report says: “The prison is compelled by national policy to receive them, even if they went to hospital from another London prison, and must find a way to accommodate their behaviour in an environment where compulsory medication is not an option.”

Prison officers show a “reluctance” to wear body worn video cameras despite 17 members of staff being assaulted in 14 incidents in March, this year.

The report also indicated a chronic understaffing in the healthcare wing of the prison with 13 posts for nurses remaining vacant in March this year.

There was some positives in the report which highlighted how frequent lockdowns – where prisoners are unable to leave their cells while prison officers check their rooms – had improved the removal of contraband which includes drugs and mobile phones. More frequent security check of visitors and the routine presence of patrol dogs and sniffer dogs had also seen a reduction in the amount of contraband entering the prison. But with not enough staff the lockdowns meant prisoners were missing education classes and healthcare visits.

There were also three fewer deaths in custody in the year up until March compared to the six who died in the previous year and reported incidents of self-harm increased by seven incidences from 483 to to 500 despite a national increase of 10 per cent.

The board will be recruiting more members in the coming months and are particularly keen for local residents to get involved. To find out more go to


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