Cockroaches, filthy toilets, litter-strewn cells and electric wires hanging above shower cubicles - prisoners are living in “utterly appalling” squalor in UK jails.
That is the conclusion of a damning report from Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons, as he warned the violence plaguing UK jails will not end while inmates are held in such poor conditions.
Images from Clarke’s damning report, released his week, show exposed broken windows, poor ventilation, graffiti, damp, exposed wiring and vermin in the UK prison estate.
One depicted a handprint of blood left on the wall of a cell filled with smashed-up furniture.
Now, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon has told HuffPost UK he will launch a review of private sector contracts for jail maintenance with a view to bringing them back in-house.
He said said British prisons were “approaching an emergency situation”, adding: “The outsourcing of facilities management, maintenance and repairs has had a predictable impact on services.
“When there are reports of prisoners remarking it is easier to get drugs than clothing, or when prisoners go for long periods without properly functioning showers, it does nothing to build institutional trust.”
He called for ministers to listen to the prison officers facing the “explosion” of violence on the frontline.
The private sector contracts for prison maintenance in England and Wales, worth around £500m, have so far failed to deliver the £115m savings promised. The Ministry of Justice entered into the five-year deals with Carillion and Geo Amey in 2014. Geo Amey is responsible for transportation services, while Carillion has contracts for maintenance.
The prisons watchdog sounded the alarm on the contracts in August, with checks on fire equipment, CCTV and tests for legionella not being carried out while broken showers left unrepaired for months.
Prisoners have been using clothes to patch up broken windows, while rat infestations have been discovered in some jails.
Burgon said: “In addition to ruling out any more private sector prisons, Labour will undertake a review, working with governors and others, to identify those private service contracts that can be brought back in-house over time that would both save the state money and at the same time improve prison conditions.”
Clarke’s report found some prisoners had no choice but to eat their meals while sitting on their toilets, the report found – something which is in direct contravention of food hygiene guidance.
It also said prisoners and young offenderes were increasingly “frustrated and angry” at being locked up for as long as 22 hours a day in cramped conditions.
Last year, the number of assaults, self-harm incidents and suicides in prisons in England and Wales hit record highs.
The Ministry of Justice said it is investing £1.3bn in modernising the prisons estate, closing older jails and replacing them with new buildings.
Clarke told the BBC the poor state of jails was at the heart of the problem.
He said: “The Government’s ambition for prison reform will not be achieved unless prisons are made safer, the problem of drugs is dealt with and living conditions are improved.”
A number of prisons have been hit by serious disturbances. In the latest episode trouble flared at Long Lartin maximum security jail on Wednesday, with inmates taking control of an entire wing.
Clarke warned inmates were turning to drugs to “break the boredom” as they are locked up in cramped and decrepit cells for long periods.
Clarke said: “The inevitable outcome of the conditions in jail and the crowding is that prisoners are very frustrated and angry.
“We have seen an explosion of violence in our jails over the last few years.
“Until things are improved in terms of the frustrations of prisoners in their conditions and being locked up for excessively long periods of time during the day, I’m afraid I can’t see how things are going to improve.”
Clarke went on: “Broken plumbing, blocked lavatories, broken windows, broken furniture, filth, infestations, cockroaches, rats - all the sorts of things that really, in the 21st century, we should be saying ‘this simply is not right’.”
Figures published on Friday also showed the prison population at 85,463, less than 1,000 below the “useable operational capacity” of 86,456, with the high number of prisoners thought to be contributing to the catalogue of problems facing jails.
Earlier this week the president of the Prison Governors Association said jails are “full to bursting” and called on the Government to “be brave” and cut the numbers behind bars.
Andrea Albutt said: “Currently our prisons are full to bursting. The Government must be brave and reduce the prison population and don’t worry about votes. Don’t dabble, just do it – because morally it is the right thing to do.”
Describing sentences of a year or less as “pointless”, she added: “This cohort must be dealt with in a different way in the community. Executive release is possible. We have prisoners on IPP (imprisonment for public protection) sentences years past their tariff but still in prison.”
Burgon said governors had repeatedly raised the problem with him, also.
“I have been struck by the fact every time I meet a prison governor or an officer, they tell me that we are jailing too many people.
“They ask me why we are using vast resources to send someone to prison for a few weeks. They lament seeing the same people over and over.
“When people at the frontline and experts raise such matters, we must take them seriously.”
The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) think tank has suggested the Government should freeing elderly or seriously-ill prisoners , who “pose minimal risk” to the public as it would save £246m a year and ease pressure on jails.
Burgon also hit out at Government failures to recruit more prison officers.
The pay cap for prison officers has been lifted as the Ministry of Justice attempts to hire 2,500 more prison officers.
Prison officers will receive a 1.7% pay rise, but is far less than the 5% the Prison Officer’s Association had been asking for.
Burgon said: “It really should have come as no surprise to this government that prisons would become less safe when staff are more outnumbered.
“Or that efforts at rehabilitation would be undermined by prisoners having to spend more time isolated in their cells. Or that when staff with decades of vital experience are lost to the service – or at breaking point, exhausted after working ever longer hours in ever more stressful conditions – that standards in prisons will become less decent.”
A prison service spokesman said there have “a number of unforeseen operational changes” since the maintenance contracts were awarded which have directly impacted the maintenance of the estate,” adding: “We are now in discussions with contractors.”
HuffPost UK has approached the Ministry of Justice, Carillion plc and Geo Amey for comment.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We are investing £1.3billion to modernise the prison estate, closing older prisons that are not fit for purpose and creating in their place high-quality, modern establishments.
“This will help deliver prisons that are more safe and secure, so our staff can work more closely with offenders to change their lives and turn their back on crime for good.
“Our work in this area is supported by a drive to recruit an extra 2,500 prison officers, who will boost the frontline and help turn our prisons into places of reform.”
Carillion has declined to comment on the report or on Labour’s call for contracts to be brought back in-house.