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Damning prison report slams ‘unacceptable’ delays to urgent investment

Pentonville jail not fit for ‘the incarceration of prisoners in the 21st century’, Independent Monitoring Board warns

11 September, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Pentonville’s Independent Monitoring Board said it is a particularly difficult jail to manage because it has such a high turnover of inmates

ANOTHER report into shocking conditions in Pentonville Prison has been published with the authors damning the government’s “unacceptable” response to persistent issues at the jail.

The Caledonian Road prison’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) published its annual report which found that investment in the jail, which had previously been deemed “urgent”, was not being delivered.

This meant that the jail was not fit for “the incarceration of prisoners in the 21st century” with the building “porous to contraband”.

The monitoring board’s co-chair Barry Baker said: “Pentonville was under extreme pressure last year. Prisoners, many with serious mental health problems, passed through its doors about 33,000 times.”

He added: “Hand-made weapons were rife and assaults on staff increased by 30 per cent in 10 months. Little over half of the prisoners got to work or education. Disabled prisoners told us they could not exercise outside or get to see their families. Sadly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, self-harm increased by 14 per cent.

“The response of government and the Prison Service was unacceptable. Investment they said was urgent months or even years ago was not delivered.”

Investigations have found that 800 cells need either their window or grille replacing, following a murder and double escape in 2016. By the end of March this year the work had still not been completed.

On top of this, the IMB found that:

• the disabled bathroom in the healthcare centre was out of action for 12 months;

• delays in repairing “numerous broken observation panels” caused a “risk to safety”;

• refurbishment of showers had not begun despite funding being in place.

The IMB noted that Pentonville is a particularly difficult jail to manage because it has such a high turnover of inmates.

The IMB report also expressed concerns about the levels of gang activity.

Members found that in January 2020, the most recent data that the board has, there were 129 gang members, from 51 different gangs, representing about 12 per cent of the prison’s population.

However, Mr Baker, who has been part of the IMB board for five years, said that there “is hope here”.

“Strong leadership from the current governor, together with energetic managers and dedicated staff, were making an impact on drugs, assaults and cleanliness by March,” he said.

“The response to the pandemic was fast and thorough. Investment, when it came, was a game-changer.”

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “Improvements have been made in the six months since this review and a newly appointed governor continues to drive change.

“HMP Pentonville is benefiting from a new intensive support programme and refurbishment work is already under way.

“A new body scanner is also stopping phones, drugs and weapons from getting in.”

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