The Iconic Wormwood Scrubs Prison- One of Britain’s ‘Ten Worst’

In August 2018 HMP Wormwood Scrubs was listed as one of Britain’s ten worst Prisons in Rory Stewart’s ‘Ten Prisons Project’. All ten prisons are struggling with high levels of violence, substance abuse and indiscipline. In total the prisons have been given £40 million to address the problems, including security within the cells and landings and general living standards of prisoners.

HMP Wormwood Scrubs was designed in 1870 during the Victorian era and built using convict labour. It was operational by 1874, a model of good practice at the time. During World War Two it was repurposed as secure government offices for M15.

HMP Wormwood Scrubs is a category B local prison for adult males in the early stages of custody, usually remanded from the local Magistrate and Crown Courts. It is tasked with the resettlement and integration of inmates, but is currently failing in this area. It has a capacity of 1279. The population of the prison is said to be vulnerable with 50% of the population from Black, Minority and Ethnic backgrounds and a full one third are foreign nationals. There are currently 83 young men there who are under the age of 21.Wormwood Scrubs had held some infamous prisoners in its time. The most well known was probably Ian Brady, partner of Moira Hindley, convicted of ‘The Moors Murders’. Charles Bronson, Britain’s most violent prisoner also spent time in ‘the Scrubs’ until he was transferred after attempting to strangle the prison governor!

The most recent inspection in August 2017 condemned the prison as not substantially improving since May 2014. The report called the prison unsafe with high levels of serious violence occurring on a regular basis. Over 50% of the prisoners spent up to 23 hours a day in their cells. Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, wrote that staff shortages, inexperienced officers and the challenge of recruiting new officers were partially to blame, and he said the Prison and Probation service really must step up to improve the prison.

The report praised the Governor, Steve Bradford for his hard work against almost impossible odds. Clarke noted there was a high use of force in the prison but it was appropriate to the situations and that officers had good working relationships with the prisoners. It was also noted that the prison often ran out of basic items leaving officers scavenging for them, this was not helping the situation, as prisoners were frustrated at the lack of items and basic foodstuff.

In September 2018 35 prison officers from Wormwood Scrubs walked out on strike over the unprecedented levels of violence in the jail, joining others from the Prison Officers’ association. Rory Stewart, Prisons Minister ordered the officers back to work saying the action was illegal. An agreement was reached before the POA was taken to court. The sentences for those who attack prison officers have now been doubled and the pay has been increased. Part of the £40 million has been used to increase security on landings and tackle drug crime. Body worn cameras have been introduced in some prisons too. There are also now 3500 more prison officers to help with managing the inmates.

As part of the ‘Ten Prisons Project’ Wormwood Scrubs has been allocated high tech scanners and sniffer dogs to try to reduce the flow of drugs into the prison. Drugs like Mamba and Spice often fuel the violence within the prison and lead to other problems of addiction and the supply of illegal substances. We will be closely following the successes and failures of the Project and Rory Stewart’s promise to resign if improvements are not significantly noticeable by August 2019, one year on.

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