‘Vermin-infested’ London prison blighted by sexist and racist staff, warns watchdog


“vermin-infested” London prison blighted by sexist and racist staff, suicides and rising violence is at risk of becoming overwhelmed if plans to increase inmate numbers go ahead, a watchdog warned on Thursday.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor said Wandsworth Prison also had high levels of drug abuse and mental health problems and “desperately bored” prisoners who were not been given enough time to study, exercise or even shower.

He said it had only managed to cope so far because of a decision to reduce its total capacity by 300 to a total of around 1,360 inmates.

But he warned government plans to restore prisoner numbers to their previous level in April threatened to send it into reverse and jeopardise any chance of making progress in addressing the “extensive list of challenges” it faces.

Mr Taylor’s warning came as he published an inspection report on Wandsworth compiled following an unannounced visit to the jail in September last year.


It found that “violence was increasing and the number of assaults on staff was high” with “weak” action to tackle the perpetrators, inadequate investigations into attacks, and “no embedded violence reduction strategy or action plan” in place.

The report further discloses that 967 prisoners were receiving help for substance misuse and that more than 500 are being referred each month for help with their mental health.

It also highlights dire conditions in the Victorian prison, stating that there is “major problem with rats, mice and prison” including “evidence of rat faeces in living accommodation and offices intended for key workers and offender managers to interview prisoners.”

Three quarters of prisoners are sharing a cell with Mr Taylor warning that there are “not enough staff to make sure prisoners received even the most basic regime. They sometimes had to choose between exercise, ordering from the kiosk and having a shower.”

His report also reveals that the governor is “taking action to challenge an ingrained negative culture, including sexism and racism, among some staff” and that “a ‘climate assessment’ of what it was like to work in the prison had also been carried out by the HMPPS Tackling Unacceptable Behaviours Unit.”

Further concerns include nine suicides and two drug deaths inside the prison since the last inspection in 2018 and inadequate support for foreign national prisoners, who account for nearly half of the jails inmates.

Many are from Eastern Europe, but Mr Taylor says that there is also a “growing backlog” of prisoners waiting for asylum decisions and 37 inmates being held beyond their prison term because of potential deportation action. He says that Home Office officials were absent from the prison for a year during an earlier phase of the Covid pandemic and that although they have returned the assistance being provided to the foreign prisoners remains inadequate.

Mr Taylor concludes that although the reduction in prisoner numbers last September, coupled with the efforts of the governor and staff, had prevented the jail becoming “overwhelmed” so far, the limited progress it had achieved will be jeopardised if its capacity is increased as planned.

“This crumbling, overcrowded, vermin-infested prison will need considerable ongoing support from the prison service, notably with the recruitment and retention of staff, improving the infrastructure of the jail and making sure that agencies such as the Home Office and the education provider pull their weight,” he states.

”It is hard to see how HMP Wandsworth’s limited progress can be sustained if prisoner numbers in this jail are allowed to increase as they are scheduled to do next April.”

A Prison Service spokesman did not comment on the warning about capacity but insisted that “improvements are already underway to address issues identified in September’s inspection.

“Racism and sexism are not tolerated and inspectors have noted the governor is already tackling it,” he said.


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