Wandsworth prison’s performance was rated as a “serious concern” and watchdogs had issued a string of warnings about the jail in the past year before a nationwide manhunt was launched after a former soldier accused of terrorism escaped undetected.
The category B reception and resettlement men’s prison, which opened in 1851, is among nine jails whose performance has been questioned recently.
Governor Katie Price presides over the Victorian jail, which holds around 1,600 defendants appearing at London courts and offenders due to be released in five wings, according to information published on gov.uk and last updated in January.
In the Annual Prison Performance Ratings for 2022/23, published in July, it was rated as a “serious concern”.
Both the chief inspector of prisons Charlie Taylor and the prison’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) raised concerns about staffing levels, among other issues, in reports published last year.
In July 2022, Mr Taylor warned that the prison did not have enough body-worn cameras for every staff member on duty and highlighted how there had recently been several changes in leadership.
Inspectors described “very poor” living conditions with “piles of litter” and said levels of violence had risen since previous inspections.
Mr Taylor said: “The problem of the very high rates of non-effective staff was unchanged since the inspection. Without progress in this area, outcomes at Wandsworth will continue to struggle, making it a clear priority for the incoming governor.”
Meanwhile, the IMB said a “staffing crisis” and “crumbling” Victorian buildings were “at the heart” of its problems.
In findings published in September 2022 the body, made up of volunteers tasked by ministers to scrutinise conditions in custody, highlighted the “negative impact” of staff shortages and “wholly inadequate physical conditions”.
The IMB said: “Significant staffing problems are adversely affecting the delivery of a consistent regime.”
Although “technically fully staffed”, more than 30% of staff are “non-operational on a regular basis, for a number of reasons”, sometimes rising to more than 40%, according to the findings.
The “recruitment, training and retention” of skilled and well-motivated staff is “essential” amid a rise in “volatile young prisoners” and “alarming” levels of violence but the board said it was “very concerned that this is not happening”.
Tim Aikens, chairman of the prison’s IMB, said at the time: “The board is once again expressing its concern about conditions in HMP Wandsworth, whose Victorian buildings are long overdue significant investment.
“With depleted staff numbers, degrading living conditions and high levels of mental health need, the increasing level of violence is both unsurprising and deeply worrying.”
Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know…