Shock increase in violence at Islington jail
Reports warn of dire conditions in overcrowded Pentonville Prison
30 August, 2019 — By Emily Finch
A RED alert over standards at Pentonville Prison was issued this week as it was revealed violent incidents at the jail have surged in the past two years with inmates locked up with “masses of cockroaches everywhere”.
Two separate reports published by the Chief Inspector of Prisons and an independent board made up of local residents warned conditions in the Caledonian Road prison are dire with more than two-thirds of inmates saying they felt “unsafe”.
Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, warned that without numbers being “dramatically cut” the prison would “never function well”.
She told the Tribune: “The prison has far too many people and nothing you do [to the building] will solve that problem.”
She criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge to “come down hard on crime and criminals”, including by ending inmates’ automatic early release, which he announced earlier this month.
“He’s just talking out of his backside, to put it politely. You have a cohort of people in prison who committed serious offences who are really dangerous, but you have the rest who shouldn’t be there,” she said.
She warned that the collapse of Carillion – the facilities management giant which previously maintained the prison – in January last year was still having a lasting impact on inmates.
“I visited the prison three months ago. Carillion were going to build extra facilities for the prisons like cooking training. There’s a small derelict site at the prison, which was a little beacon of hope, that has gone by the wayside,” she said.
She added: “If you have a sense of purpose, camaraderie with people you work with, and you’re keeping busy, life is good. This reduces drug use and violence.”
The annual report by the Independent Monitoring Board for the prison, published on Wednesday, said that because of Carillion’s collapse the prison had only half the number of required tradespeople working there after services were brought in-house.
It warned that the majority of windows and grilles identified for allowing drugs or weapons in had not been replaced despite being earmarked as potentially dangerous and connected to a fatal stabbing in 2016.
There were also “masses of cockroaches everywhere” and, despite the doubling of Rentokil visits, “it has not yet solved the problem”.
In July there were 1,080 inmates in the prison with two sharing cells meant for one person – the recommended capacity is 694 people.
Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that “very serious consideration was given” following the prison’s inspection earlier in the year to invoke an Urgent Notification protocol which would have seen the Secretary of State for Prisons directly intervene in the running of the prison.
He said that the “early signs of improvement” during a previous inspection was a “false new dawn” but the relatively new governor “appeared finally to be getting to grips with longstanding problems”.
His report said cases of violence had increased by approximately 56 per cent since 2017 “driven by a variety of factors, including gang affiliations, drugs, debt and a high proportion of relatively more volatile younger prisoners who were given no targeted support”.
Drugs remain “highly problematic” with a positive result for a third of people randomly tested for drug use – including for the psychoactive substance Spice.
“We left the prison with no illusions about the scale of the task ahead and with ongoing concerns about decency and safety for prisoners. The depressing cycle of promise and further decline cannot be allowed to continue,” he said.
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said they were “under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge”, but added: “The new management team has made significant improvements in the months since this inspection. Those changes include a new drugs strategy combining more cell searches with better addiction treatment, providing more money to refurbish cells, and appointing specialist staff members to work on reducing violence.
“In addition, this month the Prime Minister announced an extra £100m for airport-style scanners and mobile phone-blocking technology to boost security and cut violence in our prisons”