"Wandsworth Way" condemned in damning prison report

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A damning report into conditions at Wandsworth Prison today accuses some staff of ruling by fear and warns of assaults on inmates throughout the jail.

A damning report into conditions at Wandsworth Prison today accuses some staff of ruling by fear and warns of assaults on inmates throughout the jail.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, said there was an entrenched culture of racism, sexism and intimidation, the so-called "Wandsworth Way" imposed through a "pervasive culture of fear".

Conditions were described as "appalling" in the segregation unit where inspectors discovered cockroaches in two cells, and dead rats in the exercise yard.

Up to 14% of 1,295 inmates at the south London jail told inspectors they had been assaulted by staff - many of them on several occasions - and a third said they had felt afraid in the prison.

One inmate described having his cell "invaded" by officers and being forced to the ground.

Another said officers held him down and used him as "a punchbag". Officers were also accused of "poking" inmates repeatedly, and one prisoner said he had been grabbed round the throat by a guard.

Many said they were simply too scared to lodge official complaints.

But once inmates realised it was safe to talk to the inspection team, complaints "could not be staunched", said Sir David.

The fact that the allegations were made throughout the prison added weight to their credibility, he said.

Staff attitudes and physical conditions were condemned in particular in the segregation unit.

"Never have I had to write about anything so inhuman and reprehensible as the way that prisoners, some of them seeking protection and some of them mentally disordered, were treated in the filthy and untidy segregation unit," said the report.

Staff treatment towards prisoners ranged from "at best off hand and at worst menacing and threatening".

Inmates were humiliated during strip searches, had haphazard access to showers and exercise and minimal interaction with staff.

Cells were filthy and stank of urine and some of the in-cell toilets were broken.

Again, inmates were too frightened to complain about anything.

Sir David criticised not only prison management but the chaplains, doctors and Board of Visitors for failing to speak out about the squalor.

Throughout the prison treatment of the large foreign national population was "at best thoroughly inadequate", and the treatment of families of prisoners was sometimes "despicable".

Sir David called for a total turnaround of the culture of the Victorian-built prison which has a history of difficult industrial relations.

Officers who wanted to follow the "Wandsworth Way" should be sacked.

Senior management must spend more time looking at the way prisoners were treated rather than simply monitoring performance targets and budgets.

The report acknowledged there were many aspects of the prison which were performing well and many staff were dedicated and effective, offering hope for the future.

Sir David said he would return to monitor progress in a year and was confident improvements would be made.

Prison Service Director General Martin Narey accepted some of the criticism.

The segregation unit had been completely refurbished since the inspection in July, and a one-year action plan to act on his recommendations had been drawn up.

But Mr Narey said a subsequent independent study by a team from Cambridge University had found only 4% of inmates alleging assaults by staff suggesting some prisoners had exaggerated their claims to inspectors.

He said: "The research confirmed that the culture of the prison is negative, concentrating too much on security and control and not enough on rehabilitative work.

"The research concluded that prisoners on the whole do feel safe, but not respected.

"Wandsworth is not a brutal prison. It is not another Wormwood Scrubs."

More than 25 prison officers from the Scrubs prison have been charged following allegations of brutality at the west London jail.

Today's report is the latest in a string of highly critical inspections.

Other jails which have been blasted include the Scrubs, Werrington and Feltham.

Prison officers at Wandsworth hit back at Sir David, saying that the inspectors had arrived at the jail with pre-conceived ideas about what they would find.

Mark Healey of the Prison Officers Association, which was criticised by Sir David for failing to challenge the Wandsworth Culture, said budget cuts at a time of increased numbers of prisoners had added to the pressures on staff.

Prisons minister Paul Boateng demanded swift improvements to the jail.

He acknowledged that the prison, containing a mixture of lifers, vulnerable prisoners and those on remand, was complicated to run and said he was encouraged by the pockets of good practice.

"While I accept the view of the chief inspector and the director general that the situation at Wandsworth is not comparable to that which existed at Wormwood Scrubs, Wandsworth clearly has an attitude problem.

"This prison is not performing acceptably and must improve."

Today Sir David insisted that the attitude of some prison officers at Wandsworth was unacceptable.

"In the case of Wandsworth, there is a culture in Wandsworth where some officers seem to think that the way they treat prisoners is acceptable. Now it is not acceptable, it is not acceptable anywhere, and it is certainly not acceptable in the Prison Service.

"This is not something that has grown up overnight, this has been there for years. The Prison Service know about it, their management know about it, people in the prison know about it and nobody has done anything about it," Sir David told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Prison Service director general Mr Narey accepted there were problems at Wandsworth.

"I think there is a real attitude problem on the part of some staff at Wandsworth, by no means all," said Mr Narey.

"It is being dealt with. It is not a matter of prisoners being brutalised. I have had independent research by the University of Cambridge, as soon as David showed me the results of his, and that has established very clearly that there is little or no evidence of brutality.

"But I accept that prisoners are sometimes not treated with the respect and dignity they deserve, and I won't tolerate that."

Mr Narey said he would never turn a blind eye.

"If there is any other evidence, on every occasion I will investigate it. I will not tolerate the abuse of prisoners, and if we identify it, we will sack those responsible."

Sir David, who is said to have a difficult relationship with the Prison Service and Home Office because of his outspoken attitude, was asked whether he expected to have his contract renewed.

He said: "I have got a five-year job which finishes next November. As far as I'm concerned if they want me to go on, I will consider it when they suggest it."

Sir David had not yet been asked to continue, but said he would not have expected to have been asked this early.