Pentonville monitors blast conditions at 'overcrowded', 'inhumane' jail

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A prison where two cellmates made an audacious escape bid after sawing through a metal bars has been labelled "overcrowded" and "inhumane".

Dilapidated windows at HMP Pentonville are worsening a drug problem at the Victorian prison in north London, while the jail's Independent Monitoring Board described conditions as "squalid".

It found blocked toilets and leaking sewage at the prison and added the killing of 21-year-old prisoner Jamal Mahmoud and the escape of Matthew Baker, 29, and James Whitlock, 32, demonstrated "serious shortcomings".

Members of the IMB visit the jail several days a week throughout the year and said "aspects of the physical environment of Pentonville are inhumane".

In a heavily critical report, it said: "Confining two men in a cell measuring 12 feet by eight feet is not humane treatment.

"One has to eat his meal in the cell while the other may be sitting on a badly screened toilet a few feet away.

"Aspects of the physical environment are squalid with blocked toilets, leaking sewage, and broken facilities meaning prisoners regularly go without showers, clean clothes and hot food.

"The prison struggles to ensure the basics of decency largely due to the outsourced provider responsible for maintenance - Carillion."

It concluded "the contract is working neither for Pentonville nor the taxpayer".

The Category B prison is holding 380 more men than the Prison Service deems it suitable for, the IMB said.

Last year's report into the prison raised concerns about the risk to safety from the prison's old windows - with the replacement recommended by the National Offender Management Service following the death of Mr Mahmoud in October 2016.

It said: "Less than a month later two prisoners escaped through a cell window.

"Until all the windows are replaced contraband received by drone or from throw-overs will continue to put the safety of staff and prisoners at risk.

"If cells cannot contain prisoners, then the safety of the public is also at risk."

The report praises recent improvements at the site, including the use of body-worn cameras for uniformed staff and the introduction of anti-drone technology, but raised concerns about the number of assaults on staff which average around 10 a month.