06:40, July 28 314 0 theguardian.com

2017-07-28 06:40:03
Pentonville prison report attacks 'squalid, inhumane' conditions

A prison where two cellmates made an audacious escape bid after sawing through a metal bars has been labelled “overcrowded” and “inhumane”.

A report by HMP Pentonville’s independent monitoring board (IMB) described conditions as “squalid” and said dilapidated windows were worsening a drug problem at the Victorian prison in north London.

The board found blocked toilets and leaking sewage at the prison and added that the killing of 21-year-old prisoner Jamal Mahmoud and the escape of Matthew Baker, 29, and James Whitlock, 32, demonstrated “serious shortcomings”.

Members of the IMB visit the jail several days a week throughout the year and said “aspects of the physical environment of Pentonville are inhumane”.

The report said: “Confining two men in a cell measuring 12 feet by eight feet is not humane treatment.

“One has to eat his meal in the cell while the other may be sitting on a badly screened toilet a few feet away.

“Aspects of the physical environment are squalid, with blocked toilets, leaking sewage, and broken facilities meaning prisoners regularly go without showers, clean clothes and hot food.

“The prison struggles to ensure the basics of decency largely due to the outsourced provider responsible for maintenance: Carillion.”

It concluded “the contract is working neither for Pentonville nor the taxpayer”.

The category B prison was holding 380 more men than the Prison Service deemed it suitable for, the IMB said.

Last year’s report on the prison raised concerns about the risk to safety from the prison’s old windows. The National Offender Management Service recommended following the death of Mahmoud in October 2016 that they be replaced.

It said: “Less than a month later two prisoners escaped through a cell window.

“Until all the windows are replaced contraband received by drone or from throw-overs will continue to put the safety of staff and prisoners at risk.

“If cells cannot contain prisoners, then the safety of the public is also at risk.”

The report praises recent improvements at the site, including the use of body-worn cameras for uniformed staff and the introduction of anti-drone technology, but raised concerns about the number of assaults on staff, of which there were on average about 10 a month.

Meanwhile, a Welsh assembly member has said staffing levels must be urgently reviewed after an explosive device “erupted” at HMP Cardiff.

The incident came to light after a whistleblower from the city centre prison raised concerns with Plaid Cymru AM Bethan Jenkins, saying it was so understaffed inmates could take over the prison in less than 10 minutes in a riot.

A spokesman from South Wales police said no one was injured when “a bottle containing an unknown liquid erupted and slid across the floor” on 15 June.

Four men were arrested, three of whom remained under investigation, while the fourth would not face further action, he added.

Jenkins, AM for South Wales West and Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for communities, called on the UK government to conduct an urgent review of staffing levels and security across the prison estate.

A Prison Service spokesman confirmed the incident took place and that no prisoners or staff were hurt: “The matter was referred to the police and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”