Violence continues to rise at one of country’s busiest jails, report says

Violence has continued to rise at one of the country’s oldest and busiest jails, a watchdog has warned.

Chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke said he found “little evidence of positive improvement” and violence had “once again risen” at HMP Pentonville – with an overall increase of 10% and a 30% hike in assaults on staff.

It is one of two London jails which were last month put into the equivalent of special measures over concerns about rising levels of violence and drugs as well as plummeting safety levels.

In August, Mr Clarke warned violence fuelled by gangs, drugs, debt and “volatile young prisoners” increased “markedly” at Pentonville.

Volunteers appointed by justice ministers to scrutinise prison conditions claimed Government neglect “directly contributed” to an “alarming rise” in violence and drugs at the jail.

An independent review of progress (IRP) took place in February to follow up on key concerns raised in the previous inspection.

But the findings “were a cause for continued concern” and inspectors described the prison as making the “poorest progress” compared to any other IRP since the process was introduced in April.

Mr Clarke said he was “so concerned” with the results that he wrote to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland.

He added: “In terms of safety, until very recently there had been a lack of clear accountability at every level.

“Action planning to deliver the safety strategies that were now in place had been neither swift nor effective.

“Indeed, overall levels of violence had once again increased.”

Prisons reform
Chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke (PA)

There were “few incentives to motivate good behaviour” and too many internal discipline procedures – known as adjudications – for serious breaches of the rules were being written off, inspectors said.

“This failure to grip and manage key processes created a culture where violence and poor behaviour could all too easily go unpunished,” Mr Clarke added.

Managers understood that “boredom and inactivity contributed to bad behaviour, violence and poor well-being”, but despite this “prisoners still spent far too long locked in their cells during the working day”, according to the report.

Scrutiny of the increasing use of force had only begun “in earnest” a few weeks before the IRP and managers “could assure neither themselves nor inspectors that all uses of force were justified”, the findings said.

Mr Clarke also warned of a “lacklustre” approach to suicides in the jail. But he said good progress had been made in tackling the prison’s “significant drug problem”.

Prisons Minister Lucy Frazer said: “We’ve taken immediate action to improve HMP Pentonville by appointing a new governor and giving the prison intensive support through our new performance programme.

“I am confident this will stabilise the prison through additional staff, enhanced training and X-ray style security to reduce the illicit drugs which drive violence.

“In addition, soon every offender will have a key worker to provide one-to-one support and help us identify those who are most vulnerable.”

Both HMP Pentonville and young offenders’ institution Feltham A were last month placed in the Government’s new Prison Performance Support Programme (PPSP).

The project replaces what was previously known as “special measures”, which would see the Government step in to address concerns at failing prisons.

Four other prisons which are already in special measures – Wormwood Scrubs, Bedford, Bristol and Hewell prisons – were also named as those to receive extra support under the programme.

The announcement came after Whitehall’s spending watchdog the National Audit Office said the Government was failing to overhaul prisons conditions with safety problems reaching record levels.

Inspectors are due to review Pentonville’s conditions again in November.

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