Conditions at jail 'unacceptable': 'Depressing' faults at prison have not been remedied

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FAILURE to improve conditions at Wandsworth prison, south London, is today condemned as one of the most 'depressing' aspects of the penal system in a damning report from the Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Judge Stephen Tumim says in his report that little has changed at the jail since he severely criticised it following a visit in 1989.

The prison service, he said, was still failing in its duty to look after inmates at Wandsworth 'with humanity' and to offer them the chance of 'useful lives'. The report says: 'The regime remains very basic and lends itself to monotonous and mechanistic routines.'

Judge Tumim is particularly critical of a failure to provide work or leisure activities for inmates, most of whom are locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day.

The report says that where work is created it often has little meaning, pointing out that 100 men are involved in cleaning the wings. 'Even in a prison as large as Wandsworth we doubted whether there were sufficient cleaning tasks for this number of men.' Facilities at the jail were criticised as unacceptable. For instance, some reception cells for newly arrived prisoners had been vandalised while others had 'damaged or urine-stained mattresses'.

Responding to the report, which was written last November but only released today, Derek Lewis, Director General of the Prison Service, said his agency had developed a five-year improvement programme for the prison, which houses more convicted inmates than any other jail in England and Wales. More activities and more visits for prisoners were planned, he said.

However, the response was itself the subject of debate, with the Prison Reform Trust suggesting the Home Office delayed the release of 'potentially embarrassing reports until they can claim that they are out of date'.