Prison's health facilities 'unfit for patients': Inmates 'distressed and despondent'

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The Independent Online
HEALTH care and medical facilities at one of Britain's oldest jails were severely criticised yesterday in a scathing report by the Government's chief inspector of prisons.

Pentonville prison in north London was also attacked for holding large numbers of unconvicted asylum seekers, some of whom were said to be 'distressed and desperate'. And it noted that about half the inmates at the Victorian jail were reported to be taking drugs.

In a strongly worded report, Judge Stephen Tumim, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the health care centre was 'run down, cramped, dirty and unfit for patients' and described the medical facilities as 'grossly inadequate'.

He said the nursing staff complained about lack of training, bad communication and poor regimes for patients. There was also confusion between the senior medical officer and the governor in the health care centre about their job descriptions and responsibilities.

Pentonville, which opened in 1842, has about 650 inmates. As a category B jail it holds a mixture of sentenced men, people on remand, and immigration detainees waiting for their claims to be processed.

The report is particularly outspoken about the use of the jail to lock up asylum seekers and immigrants who have applied to stay in the Britain. At the time of the inspection last July there were 55, although this has since risen to about 60.

Judge Tumim said: 'As a group they gave the impression of being distressed, despondent and, in some cases, desperate. We have grave reservations about the appropriateness of holding such inmates in a busy local prison.' He added that the average time it took for an immigration detainee to get a decision about his future was six months, but it could take up to a year.

Judge Tumim's findings follow another damning report last week by the Pentonville Board of Visitors which said the use of an inner-city prison to detain people seeking asylum or facing deportation was 'unacceptable'.

Several of the current asylum seekers at the prison are among the 180-plus at jails and detention centres throughout the country who are on hunger strike in protest at the policy of incarceration while claims are examined.

On one of the few positive notes, Judge Tumim said that there was a good relationship between staff and prisoners, and the jail was slowly beginning to improve, although there was much to be done.

Stephen Shaw, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: 'The report shows a pretty depressing picture of neglect and decay. These conditions in prisons are not unique, but it's one of the worst reports for some considerable time.'

Derek Lewis, Director General of the Prison Service, said: 'Though there are criticisms, many of these have already been addressed and have brought substantial improvements for staff and inmates.'

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