Cardiff jail infested by filth and vermin: Inspectors say conditions 'as bad as have been found in any prison'

COCKROACHES, rats and other vermin are flourishing in one of the country's worst jails, while prisoners are not, according to the latest report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons.

The treatment and conditions of more than 400 prisoners at Cardiff 'were as bad as have been found in any prison', Judge Stephen Tumim said. The living units were filthy; some prisoners, issued with only one set of underwear, had been wearing the same pair of socks for three weeks; some had only one shower a week. Prisoners were locked up for prolonged periods; meals were eaten in cells and utensils washed in recess areas where prisoners were queuing for 'slopping-out'.

'The whole arrangement was unhygienic and gross,' the inspectors said.

The report, the most critical to come out of the prison inspectorate, followed a visit last October to the prison near Cardiff's city centre. After the controversy surrounding privatisation, it is another embarrassment for Derek Lewis, the new director general of the prison service.

It says inspectors were 'appalled' by the kitchen when they paid a night visit. 'On view were large quantities of cooked and uncooked meats, margarine, bread, vegetables and the remains of the lunchtime meal, all exposed and inviting the attention of vermin.

'Cockroaches were everywhere and staff and prisoners reported recent sighting of rats in the wings, in the present kitchen and in the compound of the new kitchen which is due to open in January 1993 . . .'

Judge Tumim found that the very low standard of hygiene, poor clothing and failure to provide prisoners with adequate care and activities had gone unchecked for several years.

But yesterday, in a statement, Mr Lewis said that Niall Clifford, the new governor of the prison built in 1827, had achieved significant improvements. Many of Judge Tumim's 150 recommendations had been implemented.

One of the first problems tackled had been the vermin infestation. There were daily showers and regular changes of clothes; decoration had been undertaken; and more time out of cells introduced.

'We have been able to achieve significant improvement in physical conditions and regimes for prisoners,' Mr Clifford said. He acknowledged past industrial relations problems and high staff sickness levels, but added that there was a new shift system and more co-operation between management and staff.

Judge Tumin said that he was pleased to hear of the improvements, but was 'still concerned as to how the prison reached the sad condition in which it was found by them in October 1992'.

The Howard League, for penal reform, condemned the prison service's response to the report. Its director, Frances Crook, said: 'Cardiff prison is still overcrowded, with 86 young men aged under 21 on remand.' She called for its closure.

Adam Sampson, deputy director of the Prison Reform Trust, said that the report was the 'most damning condemnation' of conditions produced by the prison inspectorate.