Chronic prison staff shortages at HMP Wandsworth

Chronic prison staff shortages had HMP Wandsworth engaged in a constant
struggle to maintain basic standards.

The Independent Monitoring Board at HMP Wandsworth publishes its 2015/16 (June
to May) annual report today, 22nd September 2016.

The prison was unable to provide a consistently safe and decent environment for its1600 prisoners. This was due to the severe shortage of prison staff, which is not within the local control of the prison. Despite strenuous efforts by the management team, and hard-pressed officers and support staff, the shortage affected almost every aspect of prison life and regime disruptions and shutdowns occurred throughout the year. This resulted in prisoners being locked up for excessive periods and access to education and purposeful activity, both vital to the rehabilitation process, being restricted. Mental Health Service provision was not equivalent to the services provided outside.

As reported in previous years there continued to be unacceptable delays in transferring severely mentally ill prisoners to secure psychiatric hospital beds. The transfer process itself needed urgent review. Once accepted by a psychiatric hospital these severely mentally ill prisoners often waited many months for a vacant bed.

Due to a new centrally arranged contract, extensive delays to repairs and replacement
had major implications for the running of the prison. Damaged cells were out of service for lengthy periods. Broken windows, observation panels, in-cell equipment, furniture and essential kitchen equipment were not repaired or replaced in a timely manner. The resulting substandard accommodation affected the safety and welfare of both prisoners and staff.

Illegal drugs, particularly ‘legal’ highs, had become more readily available in the prison, certainly due in part to the increased use of drones (at least two sightings a week, usually in the small hours, by the end of the reporting year). The increased access to drugs had a seriously destabilising influence on the whole prison. The Board felt more vigorous efforts should be made to find a solution to this national problem.