A raft of issues at the prison from which terror suspect Daniel Khalife is accused of escaping are “by no means unique” to the jail, the head of a monitoring scheme has said.
National chairwoman of the Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB) Elisabeth Davies told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that more than half of recent escapes have been from local prisons – jails where inmates are first sent.
An IMB report on Wandsworth Prison painted a bleak picture of conditions at the south-west London site, with 1,584 inmates in a building designed for 961.
The jail, one of the most overcrowded in the country, faces chronic staff shortages, rising violence and inmates able to get contraband via drone or being thrown over the wall.
Ms Davies said: “These issues are by no means unique to Wandsworth.
“If we think of a Swiss cheese model, really, when it comes to an escape – you need the holes to line up, and they don’t very often and that is why escapes are relatively rare.
“But over half of the recent escapes have been from local prisons.
“Local prisons are the most overcrowded and IMB concerns are, really, that if you have more holes – so that’s overcrowding, staffing shortages, safety and security issues … growing mental health issues, the needs of prisoners serving an indeterminate IPP sentence – these holes arguably getting bigger.
“If you increase the risk facing prisoners, staff and ultimately the public, then you’re creating an issue which is chronically unsafe.”
The IMB report found that the prison is unsafe, with 1,048 assaults on staff by inmates in the year to May 2023, and chronic officer shortages, with half unavailable.
It is relatively easy for prisoners to get contraband into the jail via throw-overs because the prison exercise area is close to the prison wall.
Drones can also be used to access windows in the residential parts of the jail.
In the year to May 2023 searches discovered more than 330 mobile phones, there were more than 210 drug finds, and more than 1,900 litres of illicit alcohol were uncovered.
The report said: “The shortage of resources – human, financial and physical – made it very difficult to operate a fully effective security regime.
“The management team at the prison worked very hard to deliver a regime despite very limited resources.
“This problem will continue until staff availability improves and facilities are upgraded.”
A Prison Service spokesman said: “We have already taken decisive action to address the serious issues raised in this report, with frontline staffing having increased by almost a quarter in the last six years, and investing millions into security upgrades at the prison.
“This includes spending more than £8 million to roll out new CCTV and putting in place tougher gate security, with dogs working alongside specialist staff.
“We have also installed new windows, repaired roofs and refurbished healthcare facilities to significantly improve conditions.”