HMP Wandsworth ‘needs to move out 400 prisoners’ to begin fixing ‘broken piece of the community’

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Campaigners fighting for better conditions at HMP Wandsworth have said the troubled prison needs to move out around 400 prisoners to begin improving. Members of the Wandsworth Prison Improvement Campaign (WPIC) described the category B men’s prison, on Heathfield Road, as a ‘broken piece of the community’ and called for more focus on slashing inmate numbers as they warned prisons across the UK are nearly at capacity.

WPIC does not believe building more prisons is the answer to fixing the crisis, which the Conservatives and Labour have pledged in their manifestos ahead of the general election on July 4. Although WPIC welcomed Labour’s promises to tackle court backlogs and review the probation service to reduce reoffending, members said nobody is saying the ‘straightforward messages’ they want to hear.

Liz Bridge, the former chaplain of HMP Wandsworth, who is leading WPIC, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) overcrowded prisons like Wandsworth must reduce inmate numbers to have a fighting chance at improving conditions. She said this could be done by tackling court backlogs to reduce the number of prisoners being held on remand, handing out community sentences instead of short sentences and reviewing ‘unrealistic’ conditions which result in people being recalled, while adding prison is not the right place for many inmates who are mentally ill.

She told the LDRS: “We’ve got to reduce our numbers and, as far as we’re concerned as members of WPIC, that prison won’t work unless they reduce the numbers by about 400. We haven’t the officers to staff it, the site isn’t right, it’s in very poor shape, wings need to be closed to be refurbished and it doesn’t run at that roll level.”

Diane Hay, from WPIC, also raised concerns building new prisons in out-of-town areas would cause prisoners to lose connection with their families, on top of the lengthy time it would take to build new prisons and difficulties in recruiting staff to fill them.

She said: “That’s something that we’ve become more and more concerned about as we’ve learnt more and met real people whose partners, brothers, kids are in Wandsworth and seeing the strain it’s put on people who’ve done nothing wrong, people who are trying to support a very scared, very frightened, very sick person inside Wandsworth, is really quite awful.”

Charlie Taylor, chief inspector of prisons, issued HMP Wandsworth with an urgent notification about its conditions in May, which means a long-term plan must be put together to improve it. The inspection followed the alleged escape of Daniel Khalife from the prison last year. 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.

Mr Taylor said in a letter there were rising rates of violence and self-harm at the ‘badly overcrowded’ prison, which he described as ‘too dirty’, and poor living conditions. He added the prison had a lack of work and education spaces, with most prisoners unemployed and spending more than 22 hours a day locked in their cells, and inexperienced staff. Former governor Katie Price resigned shortly before Mr Taylor’s letter was published.

Ms Hay argued the prison will only improve if the new governor is given enough funding by the Ministry of Justice, and enough inmates are moved out, so repairs can be carried out. Due to its current conditions, she said: “We’re just bringing out people who are not rehabilitated at all, who’ve learnt nothing, who’ve lost a lot and who are probably addicted to drugs.”

WPIC wants to see community groups given greater access to the prison to help, employers brought in to provide better and more work, along with better wages and food for prisoners. Ms Hay added: “We see the prison as part of the community and it’s a broken piece of our community and there’s lots of people who would be willing to provide things, go in, do things.”

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


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

HMP Wandsworth. Credit: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon


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