BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: UK
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Thursday, 15 March, 2001, 15:23 GMT
England's failing prisons
Sir David Ramsbotham
Sir David Ramsbotham has held his position since 1995
Since Sir David Ramsbotham was appointed HM Chief Inspector of Prisons on 1 December 1995 he has carried out at least one inspection of every prison, remand centre and young offenders' institution in England and Wales.

Many have been sharply criticised in his reports, with just a few receiving praise.

During the past five years Sir David has highlighted a range of issues, including poor healthcare in prisons, racism, overcrowding and high rates of suicide.

A few institutions, including HMP Strangeways in Manchester, Wormwood Scrubs in London and Feltham Young Offenders Institute in west London, have been commended for their improvements after damning reports.

But there are still an alarming number of prisons falling well below recommended standards.

Among those that have come in for the worst criticism are:

Winson Green Prison
Conditions at the Birmingham jail were described by Sir David in his March 2001 report as some of the worst he had seen.

The report revealed that about 11% of inmates claimed to have been assaulted by officers and one mentally-disturbed prisoner had been denied a wash or a change of clothes for weeks.

Sir David said healthcare conditions at the jail were "filthy beyond compare" and prisoners were left for long stretches of time with nothing to do.

Brixton Prison
The jail was branded as an institutionally and blatantly racist prison where certain practises were "totally unacceptable".

Patient accommodation in the prison's health centre was described by Sir David, in his January 2001 report, as "the worst he had seen anywhere in England and Wales".

Chelmsford Prison
Chelmsford Prison: "A college for crime"
Chelmsford Prison
The jail was described as a "sick" institution and "college for crime" by Sir David in his November 2000 report.

It found that prisoners were rarely let out of their cells for more than three hours a day, had been forbidden to attend church services and had little access to educational sessions.

Cases of self-harm among prisoners were higher than average, with one attempted hanging per month, and prison staff used high levels of control and restraint methods.

Portland Young Offenders Institution
Portland was criticised for its "disgraceful, squalid conditions" which were a "moral outrage" in a modern society.

The report, published in March 2000, highlighted "dangerously unhygienic" conditions, which included rats in food service areas, foul-smelling toilets and filthy showers.

Sir David questioned whether a remote convict prison built in 1848 was an appropriate place to send some of the country's most disadvantaged children.

Rochester Prison
The prison was described as "a disgrace" by Sir David in a report published in January 2000.

The chief inspector said the jail was guilty of "institutionalised neglect" and nearly 70 prisoners aged between 17 and 21 were living in a wing which was "filthy, vandalised, infested with vermin and subjected to an impoverished regime in which the only constant was unpredictability".

He said the treatment of asylum seekers, illegal immigrants and young offenders, who formed nearly half the prison population, was particularly abhorrent.

Wandsworth prison
A "pervasive culture of fear" exists at Wandsworth prison
Wandsworth Prison
It was described as a prison overshadowed by "a pervasive culture of fear" where prison officers were "callous and uncaring".

In his report on the prison, published in December 1999, Sir David highlighted filthy, cockroach-infested cells which stank of urine, an exercise yard littered with dead rats and racist and sexist prison staff.

The jail, which houses 1,295 prisoners, was given a year to improve.

Preston Prison
The prison's staff were described as "obstructive and unco-operative" and "stubbornly resistant to change".

In his report, published in October 1999, Sir David said the heavy-handed approach implemented by some members of staff was hampering substantial improvements that had previously been made in the jail.

He said inadequate buildings where reception area facilities were "appallingly cramped" were also causing problems.

Feltham Young Offenders Institution
The institution was described as "rotten to the core" where conditions and treatment of inmates was "disgraceful", "appalling", and "totally unacceptable in a civilised country".

In his March 1999 report Sir David attacked the regime, saying the problems were symptomatic of the institutionalised neglect of young offenders, many of whom were locked in their cells for 22 hours a day, forced to sleep on dirty, damaged mattresses and wear the same underwear for a week.

In February 2000 Feltham was praised by Sir David for progress made following the implementation of a 12m action plan.

Its successful turn-around has been the model for a number of improving prisons.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

15 Mar 01 | UK
Jail 'among worst in UK'
31 Jan 00 | UK Politics
Failing prison bosses face sack
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories