Prison conditions: 'If guys are banged up in the heat, it will blow'

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The Independent Online

Mark Capleton freely admits he has it easy compared with most of the inmates crammed into Wandsworth prison. He enjoys the relative luxury of a single cell fitted with electricity so he can watch television during the long days behind locked doors.

But is under no illusion about the reality of life in one of England's most overcrowded jails, and has a grim forecast of what could happen in the heat of the summer.

Capleton, who is 31, said yesterday: "It is going to kick off pretty soon. If guys are continually banged up, it's going to blow, it's going to explode. Being banged up day in, day out with the heat coming in just drives you mad. Knowing that your family is out there, it drives you nuts."

The east Londoner is nearly five years into an eight-year sentence for armed robbery and insists he is determined to be rehabilitated. But he says that the strict regime forced by overcrowding and understaffing is driving inmates to the brink. "The bang-up hours are ridiculous. People just want a bit of freedom outside their cell. It is terrible here. I have been in and out of prison a lot. But there is no doubt this is the worst."

Capleton gets out of his cell more than most because he is on library duties and because he is an official "listener", to whom depressed or even suicidal inmates can turn for help. But he admits the lonely hours are a nightmare to fill.

He spends his time watching television, reading and recording tapes for his two children, one of whom he has not seen for many months. He crosses the days off on a calendar hanging from a cupboard that contains his few possessions.

Recently he took up a new hobby: making papier-mâché models from newspaper. But officers confiscated his home-made mask because they said it could be used to help an escape.