Alarming rise in violence and drugs at Pentonville due to Government neglect, the Independent Monitoring Board reports

In its 2018/19 annual report published today, the Pentonville Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) – made up of volunteers appointed by Ministers to ensure prisoners are treated humanely – notes that for most of the year Pentonville lacked the staff it needed, but despite this the Board observed many experienced and new officers doing their best for prisoners.

What is the reality of life in this busy London local prison for staff and prisoners?

  • Violence increased by over 50% since 2017. Officers and prisoners were frequently assaulted: in March 2019 four officers and around 40 prisoners were assaulted each week.
  • Illegal drugs were pervasive. More funds for technical equipment, dogs trained to find drugs and staff to facilitate searches are urgently needed.
  • Lack of decency in the physical environment was incompatible with maintaining humanity and dignity. Problems included prisoners in cells without lighting, hot water or functioning toilets; cockroaches resistant to insecticide; mouldy shower facilities in disrepair; and broken phones.
  • Self-harm as an expression of despair continued to be a daily occurrence and reported incidents have again increased this year

The IMB Chair, Camilla Poulton, said:

“Neither Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) nor the Ministry of Justice have given Pentonville the money, care and scrutiny that it needs for years, in the IMB’s opinion.

“An audit revealed that less than half of the skilled Government Facilities Services Limited (formerly Carillion) workforce required to maintain the building to health and safety standards were in place. Other audits, commissioned by the new Governor after arriving in August 2018, revealed shortfalls relating to safety, use of force and other issues.

“The Board believes this neglect directly contributed to the violence, drugs and self-harm.”

Pentonville has a resettlement function, aiming to help prisoners turn their lives around. However as an essential cog in the local criminal justice system, serving several courts, it has tens of thousands of movements in and out of the prison every year. Men stay only seven weeks on average, and as only half of the prisoners are able to attend education each day, few men get the help they need to change.

Notwithstanding this poor environment, the Board has seen examples of awe-inspiring work by creative educators, the wellbeing centre and caring prison officers. For lack of resources and government commitment, these transformative opportunities reach very small numbers of men. The IMB would like to see much more.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons (HMCIP) has recently given his verdict on the state of Pentonville and outcomes for its prisoners. Whilst other London prisons have benefited in recent years from additional resources, Pentonville has not. It desperately needs money now to raise the standard of day-to-day life for prisoners and staff and deliver its dual function of serving local courts and helping prisoners lead productive lives.

The IMB at HMP Pentonville therefore calls upon the new Secretary of State and Minister for Prisons to:

  • Visit the prison and see for themselves the current physical conditions.
  • Ensure the Governor is given adequate funds and support from HMPPS to respond to the concerns of HMCIP and the IMB in order to turn Pentonville around as a matter of urgency.