A squalid and dangerous jail where inmates spent as little as 10 minutes outside of their cells in the day was branded as the worst seen in England and Wales during the four-year tenure of the Chief Inspector of Prisons.
Drug-taking was rife, filthy cells had smashed windows and staff were overwhelmed by the scale of problems at Brinsford Young Offenders Institution, according to a report published today by the prisons inspectorate.
The prisoners, who are aged 18 to 21, had been put into cells that were covered with violent graffiti, symbols of gang affiliations, and in one case a scrawled picture of a machine-pistol firing bullets alongside the words: “Gun shot bitch.”
Other pictures taken by the inspection team showed broken and burnt-out windows, filthy toilets and cells that were not fit for occupation. The Wolverhampton prison, which holds nearly 600 men, had deteriorated since a previous damning report in 2012 and was the worst of nearly 200 since Chief Inspector Nick Hardwick took on the role.
“It was bad and it’s got worse,” he said. “These are the worst overall findings my inspectorate has identified in a single prison during my tenure as Chief Inspector.
“This was a particularly dangerous prison. There were chaotic arrangements when they first came into prison, with no assessment of whether there was a risk to themselves or a risk to others, with chances of something going horribly wrong. There were a lot of frightened young men there.”
A high number of prisoners were being monitored because of the risk that they would harm themselves after being threatened or bullied by other inmates, according to the report. Two young men hanged themselves from the bars of their bunk bed at the prison weeks apart in 2009.
One of them, Adam Rushton, 20, had been considered at risk of suicide two days before he died, but nothing was done, according to the charity Inquest, which monitors deaths in custody.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the report had uncovered an unsafe, ineffective and violent institution that should be closed. “Rather than locking up teenagers in squalid conditions, letting some out of their cells for just 10 minutes a day, the Government needs to start to reconsider its policy of wasting public funds and young people’s lives behind bars,” she said.
Mr Hardwick said that large numbers spent most of the day locked up in their cells and little was done to address their offending. He said a new governor was appointed after the inspection in November 2013 and is tackling the problems with “vigour”. Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, said: “The prison is now clean, safe, ordered and is operating to an acceptable standard. There is more to do… but the Governor has a clear strategy in place.”