Campaigners set out demands to improve ‘miserable and filthy’ living and working conditions at HMP Wandsworth

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Campaigners have set out their demands to improve living and working conditions at HMP Wandsworth, which they described as ‘miserable and filthy’. Wandsworth Prison Improvement Campaign (WPIC) said the state of the category B men’s prison in South London leaves prisoners feeling depressed, isolated and with little chance of rehabilitation.

Liz Bridge, the former chaplain at HMP Wandsworth, is leading WPIC to put pressure on the Prison Service to improve conditions. She began to speak out about the conditions inside after she was dismissed from her position in November for donating small amounts of money to prisoners who were about to leave.

Diane Hay, from WPIC, helped Ms Bridge with the charity she founded in the prison, Wandsworth Prison Welfare Trust, which provided resources, support and activities to prisoners. She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) the charity was a ‘lifeline’ for inmates but claimed it has not been able to operate in the prison since Ms Bridge was dismissed from her position.

Ms Hay said the prisoners now ‘don’t really have very much at all’ in the way of books or packs of playing cards or anything to keep themselves away from drugs, away from self-harming, ‘given they’re locked up so much’. She said the prison, which opened in 1851, is in a ‘state of decay’ and ‘filthy’ and that this takes a heavy toll on prisoners. It housed 1,655 inmates as of May last year.

Ms Hay said: “It is such a miserable and nasty place to be in and this inevitably brings its own problems of people feeling very lost, very depressed, very alone and you have incidents of self-harm and occasionally you have people trying to take their own lives… it’s just a place where there’s a lot of mental health issues and it’s getting worse rather than better.”

The Prison Service said it is improving safety and conditions at HMP Wandsworth by recruiting new staff and investing millions of pounds in upgrades. It added staff are being given extra training in suicide and self-harm prevention.

Last September, Daniel Khalife allegedly escaped from the prison under a food delivery van. A watchdog described the prison as ‘unsafe and inhumane’ in a report published following the alleged escape. Mr Khalife is due to go on trial at the Old Bailey in October after pleading not guilty to charges including that he escaped from the prison.

Ms Hay told the LDRS there are many young, inexperienced prison officers who struggle with the major challenges they face at the prison, which is one of the most overcrowded in the country, while most of the older, experienced prison officers have left. She said: “There’s this huge problem of overcrowding, there’s not enough money and the number of prison officers to look after the men and to keep everybody safe has been cut and recruitment is very, very difficult.”

A report from Wandsworth’s Independent Monitoring Board published in September 2022 found there was a ‘staffing crisis’, ‘crumbling Victorian buildings’, ‘wholly inadequate physical conditions’ and ‘incidents of violence at alarming levels’ at HMP Wandsworth.

WPIC has been raising awareness of the state of the prison since launching, and it has now put together ‘five asks’ that members see as achievable for the Prison Service to make it ‘safer and more decent’. WPIC’s ‘five asks’ are:

Prisoners to get medication and attend hospital appointments
A plan to deal with rats, pigeons and cockroaches
Ensure hot water, heating and flushing toilets
Access to clothes, underwear, laundry and showers
Easy and regular access to books
The demands address key issues that Ms Hay described as rife at HMP Wandsworth. She said many prisoners are left without the basic necessities and services the campaign is calling on the prison to provide – including access to clean and well-fitting clothes, as she claimed some inmates are left without spare clothes as they are not given a prison kit when they arrive.

Ms Hay also said mums have complained of their sons struggling to access medication in the prison, while inmates’ hospital appointments are cancelled if there are not enough prison officers available. She added the prison is ‘incredibly infested with rats’ and ‘full of rat holes’, with ‘pigeons flying around and a lot of pigeon droppings on everything’.

She continued: “The punishment of prison is about taking away somebody’s liberty. It isn’t about taking away somebody’s liberty and then leaving them in filthy, dirty conditions, not feeding them very well, not giving them any exercise, not giving them anything to do. That isn’t why we send people to prison.

“We send them to take away their liberty and then to rehabilitate them and to make them better people in society and this terrible regime that they have at Wandsworth just doesn’t do that. It just creates people who leave as drug addicts, people who leave not having any prospects for a better life – so no job, no home, unable to cope in the modern world because they aren’t prepared for release and so you end up having reoffending.”

Ms Hay vowed WPIC will keep fighting to see its demands met at HMP Wandsworth to improve conditions for prisoners’ wellbeing.

A Prison Service spokesperson said: “We’re improving safety and conditions at HMP Wandsworth by boosting staffing levels and investing millions into upgrades such as new CCTV and windows, roof repairs and refurbished healthcare facilities.

“Staff at Wandsworth have also been given additional training in suicide and self-harm prevention, and we are working with the Samaritans to provide further support to prisoners who need it.”

When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at, or visit to find your nearest branch.


Liz Bridge from Wandsworth Prison Improvement Campaign (WPIC) and ex-chaplain at HMP Wandsworth. Credit: Diane Hay

HMP Wandsworth. Credit: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

General view of Wandsworth prison in London, Britain 08 September 2023. Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon


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