UK Prison Reform 2016 – Wandsworth Prison

Derek Harper [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Last month, the government announced the launch of their prison reform scheme. This programme, which is now in its pilot phase, is designed to tackle the serious problems within the UK prison system. Six establishments are taking part in the initial scheme; and in this series, we’ll be looking at each prison in turn, and assessing their performance at a later date.

HMP Wandsworth

HMP Wandsworth is the largest prison in the UK, and one of the largest in Europe. It’s a category B prison, situated in south-west London, and has an operational capacity of 1,877. The prison dates back to 1851 and has an extensive history; serving in the past as a site of execution.

Wandsworth Prison’s Reputation

Wandsworth Prison has one of the poorest reputations in the UK – and indeed, has been referred to by inspectors and the media alike as the ‘worst jail’ in the country. In the past, inspections found that the prison was unsafe for inmates, and that violence and drug-taking was rife. It also had the reputation of being a ‘screw’s prison’ – where prison guards set the regime, rather than the management.

In a recent inside report, the BBC commented on the noise and chaos inside the prison building, and the general lack of safety. An inmate stated: “I got sliced down the side of my face… I’ve been attacked by [groups of] 15 people, three people. I’ve had my arm broke, I’ve got three broken bones in my hand…”

He concluded: “With the greatest respect, they’re so short-staffed in here, this place can’t run, it’s unsafe. Even a lot of staff in here are in fear.”

Here’s a video, demonstrating a recent incident within Wandsworth Prison.

Is Wandsworth Prison Suitable?

The six prisons included on the pilot reform scheme are all very different – and HMP Wandsworth is perhaps the most extreme example on the list. It’s certainly the most challenging prison of the six – and desperately needs to see some dramatic improvement, which makes it an excellent choice for the scheme.

The Benefits to HMP Wandsworth

The proposed prison reform scheme includes a number of big changes for the UK prison system – and focuses largely on giving more autonomy back to the prison governors. As a result of this, it’s been referred to as the ‘biggest shake-up of prisons since the Victorian times’. The main purpose of the reform scheme is to improve rehabilitation within the prisons, and reduce the escalating rates of reoffending, which currently cost the UK taxpayer billions each year.

Here’s some more information about how the changes will affect Wandsworth Prison.

  • Governor control. Ian Bickers, Wandsworth Prison’s governor, will now have far greater control regarding prison operations. He’ll be able to allocate the budget based on the unique requirements of the establishment, rather than having to adhere to government regulations.
  • Targeted approach. By giving Bickers more control, the prison will benefit from a more individualised approach. Money can be used to address specific problems, and the prison will be able to forge partnerships with external organisations – which may assist with the rehabilitation process.
  • League tables. HMP Wandsworth’s results will be monitored throughout, and the outcome will be displayed on a public league table. If the pilot scheme is a success, this will mean that the prison’s efforts will be recognised. If the reform scheme fails, the league tables are likely to put added pressure on the governor.

Will the Reform Scheme be a Success?

At present, it’s difficult to predict whether or not the prison reform scheme will benefit HMP Wandsworth. However, the prison is undoubtedly in crisis, and in desperate need of improvement. Hopefully, the scheme will combat some of Wandsworth’s serious problems, and help the prison to move forward in the future.

One thing we can say is that with Mr Bickers at the helm the future looks very bright for HMP Wandsworth, Already he has secured training for the men at Wandsworth in the construction industry and is in talks with the Shannon trust and the author of IN-IT the book regarding reading courses.

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