Wormwood Scrubs `evil and rotten'

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ONE OF the country's most high-profile jails was yesterday condemned as "evil" and "rotten" in a devastating report by the Government's own inspectors. The powerful prison officers' union was blamed for ruling Wormwood Scrubs, in west London, with a rod of iron and riding roughshod over the governors and management.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, yesterday gave the Prison Service, which was also severely criticised in the report, six months to turn the jail around and threatened to close it or turn it over to the private sector unless drastic improvements were made. He ordered a "radical overhaul" of the regime and said that an action plan had to be compiled within 30 days. His comments followed the most critical report ever published by Sir David Ramsbotham, the Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Wormwood Scrubs was rocked earlier this month with the announcement that 25 prison officers were being charged with alleged assaults on inmates. Since the claims were made, more than 200 of the 1,000 inmates have been moved from the category B jail.

This latest blow follows an unannounced inspection in March by Sir David, who said he found "evil" at the jail and that "rottenness" was present "in too many parts" of the prison. He said closure was a justifiable option.

Sir David was fiercely critical of the industrial relations, where managers were fearful of confronting the Prison Officers' Association (POA), and the health facilities, some of which were described as "morally unacceptable and unsafe". There was also widespread bullying and racism, some of which was carried out by prison officers, and a poor regime which did little or nothing to help rehabilitate offenders.

Sir David described finding "filthy" mattresses that were "unfit" for use. Prisoners were found to be locked in their cells for most of the day. There were also complaints about racism by officers towards inmates and fellow staff. The report noted: "Another complaint we heard was that in the past, white officers used to tear out reports written by black officers in the logbook."

On the power of the POA, Sir David's report said: "Staff talked openly of the ability of trade unions to keep managerial decisions in check, or even, on occasions, to have the power of veto over them. Many staff expressed the view that they could take little action without the authority of the POA."

Sir David found a "destructive, uncooperative, self-seeking attitude of many wing staff... who were clearly resisting change", and he attacked the weak and incompetent management.

The report follows another highly critical inspection made two years ago which described Wormwood Scrubs as "dead in the water".

The Prison Service argued yesterday that it had replaced most of the senior managers at the jail, although the new governor, Stephen Moore, took over nearly 16 months ago.