Wormwood Scrubs in worse state than ever, say inspectors

Britain's most infamous prison, Wormwood Scrubs, is the subject of another damning official report today, only two years after the Government threatened to close it.

In 2000, the Home Secretary at the time, Jack Straw, said it should shut if it failed to improve, the report by Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, says.Since then, the "establishment ... had stalled, or was sliding backwards, on all our key indicators", the report adds. She calls the jail management dysfunctional, lacking experienced governors and staff resources.

In 1999, Ms Owers' predecessor, Sir David Ramsbotham, described the jail as "evil and rotten". The reputation of the Scrubs, which opened as a model prison 112 years ago, has been tainted by claims of prison officer brutality that led to 27 members of staff being charged, although only three were convicted. The chief inspector says that despite an intensive, unannounced inspection, she found "no evidence of a culture of brutality by officers towards prisoners".

But she regrets that the lack of a public inquiry into the allegations had not allowed "closure" of the subject, preventing the prison from moving forward. Further allegations are being investigated. The chief inspector describes the situation as "corrosive".

But Ms Owers reports that allegations of assaults on prisoners by prisoners have trebled from 5 per cent to 14 per cent of total inmates. She says the prison's anti-bullying strategy is ineffective.

Staff were constantly being redeployed to tasks they "did not know" and found it difficult to engage with prisoners, she says. Race relations were described as undeveloped.

But the Prison Service director general, Martin Narey, who backed a project to transform the prison, firmly rejects the findings of Ms Owers and her team. Mr Narey says he is proud of the progress achieved at the Scrubs. "The inspectorate has severely underestimated the challenge in so dramatically reforming a prison of this size and complexity," he says.

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