It’s time to head to Wandsworth, which I always do with a slight spring in my step – I used to work here, back in the 1990s, under Governor Graham Clark, and it’s always a pleasure to go back.
It was built in 1851, is Britain’s largest jail, and it looks the part. Over the years it’s attracted the attention of writers like Graham Greene, Ian McEwan, and Anthony Burgess (Alex gets banged up there in ‘A Clockwork Orange’) – and it even makes an appearance in the Squeeze hit, ‘Cool for Cats’ (‘in and out of Wandsworth…’).
The prisoners called safety greatly improved lately, helped by ‘more staff’ and VR reps ‘on each wing’, said there were some ‘excellent’ staff, and thought in-cell phones & kiosks were transformational. Family visits were ‘very good’ (‘really informal’, staff in ‘civvies’, access to games etc), as were education & training (esp. CISCO’s IT Essentials course & Radio Wanno: also widely listened to, and ‘a great source’ of information for prisoners).
The Officers described a ‘big family’ of friendly, supportive staff ‘who you know have got your back’, ‘amazing’ POELT trainers & mentors, with 2 weeks of post-training shadowing was ‘a great help’, and new Officers made very welcome. SOs on the landings & a full-time CM per wing made ‘a huge difference’. They rated twice-daily SO briefings, monthly training shutdowns and the ‘massive’ gain from in-cell phones, and kiosks, which cut staff workload and give responsibility to prisoners.
Managers agreed it was ‘a family’ (‘more than many places’) with staff who were committed to ‘making a difference’. In-cell phones & kiosks were very highly valued. Safety was ‘much improved’, with VR teams of staff & peer reps ‘crucial’, alongside keywork (‘going really well’, and welcomed by all). They valued strong leadership and the No. 1’s ‘clear direction’. Library services, including an outreach trolley, help for new readers, adult literacy group, Toe-by-Toe, and events, including visits and readings from authors, were ‘fantastic’. They also highlighted regular job fairs with outside employers and pre-release support and training from the Standout Programme. They praised the 12-bed mental health unit (run on TC lines), ‘excellent’ local mental health service support, and full health screening (inc. for blood-borne viruses) on arrival – ‘recognised as good practice’. They also valued a video conferencing centre to allow remote court appearances, which would take pressure off reception and ‘save a fortune’ in escorts.