HMP Pentonville – further deterioration

HMP Pentonville had deteriorated still further and needed to improve, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the local north London jail.

HMP Pentonville is a large, overcrowded Victorian prison holding over 1,200 adults and young adult men. It continues to hold some of the most demanding and needy prisoners and this, combined with a rapid turnover and over 100 new prisoners a week, presents some enormous challenges. At its last inspection in 2013, the prison was performing poorly. This more recent inspection found further deterioration and outcomes for prisoners were poor in three out of four healthy prison tests. Continuing high levels of staff sickness and ongoing recruitment problems meant the prison was running below its agreed staffing level and this was having an impact on many areas.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • most prisoners felt unsafe as levels of violence were much higher than in similar prisons and had almost doubled since the last inspection;
  • prisoners struggled to gain daily access to showers and to obtain enough clean clothing, cleaning materials and eating utensils;
  • prisoners said drugs were easily available and the positive drug testing rate was high even though too few prisoners were tested;
  • the prison remained very overcrowded and the poor physical environment was intensified by some extremely dirty conditions;
  • some prisoners spoke about very helpful staff, but most described distant relationships with staff and were frustrated by their inability to get things done;
  • too little was being done to meet the needs of the large black and minority ethnic population, disabled prisoners and older prisoners;
  • prisoners had little time unlocked with the majority experiencing under six hours out of their cells each day and some as little as one hour;
  • the delivery of learning and skills was inadequate and there were not enough education, training or work places for the population;
  • acute staff shortages had undermined the delivery of offender management, which was very poor; and
  • the quality of resettlement services was very mixed.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • the prison was working hard to combat violence and was starting to manage its relatively new young adult population, who presented significant control and gang issues, well;
  • the treatment and care for prisoners with drug and alcohol issues was good;
  • there had been some significant improvements in support and care for the substantial foreign national population and support for Gypsy, Romany and Travellers was good; and
  • health care provision had mostly improved.

Nick Hardwick said:

“At its last inspection in 2013 we noted that Pentonville was struggling and without investment in its physical condition, adequate staffing levels to manage its complex population, and effective support from the centre, consideration should be given to whether it has a viable future. We understand that plans for renovating and improving the physical environment have been prepared, but at the time of this most recent inspection, the prison had deteriorated even further. Notwithstanding the need for investment, the very poor standards we observed – some of which were put right during our inspection when we demanded it – and the poor staff culture, evidenced, in our view, a failure of management and leadership. The prison needs a firmer grip and a persuasive plan that will ensure immediate deliverable and sustained improvements, as well as a more considered medium-term plan that will determine whether the prison has a future.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service, said:

“As the Chief Inspector points out, Pentonville is a Victorian prison which manages a complex and demanding population. When Inspectors visited in February the prison was going through a particularly difficult time. They were operating below staffing complement, performance had slipped and standards of cleanliness were unacceptable.

“Since the inspection a robust recovery plan has been put in place. The prison has an able Governor; the management team has been strengthened; staffing numbers have increased; there has been a crack down on the illicit use of drugs and cleanliness has markedly improved.

“I visited the prison on Friday to review progress. The prison was ordered, more stable and much cleaner than previously. The physical conditions remain challenging but we are committed to further developing the regime for prisoners and I am confident that when Inspectors return next year they will find a much improved prison.”

Notes to Editors:

1. Read the report.
2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
3. HMP Pentonville is a category B local prison for sentenced and remanded adult and young adult men.
4. This unannounced inspection was carried out from 2-13 February 2015.
5. Please contact Jane Parsons in HM Inspectorate of Prisons Press Office on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 if you would like more information or to request an interview.