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 (as elsewhere, for the same reasons). Family visits were ‘very good’ (‘really informal’, staff in ‘civvies’, access to games etc), as were education & training (especially 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 very friendly, supportive staff ‘who you know have got your back’, ‘amazing’ POELT trainers & mentors (2 weeks of post-training shadowing was ‘a great help’) and new officers made very welcome. SOs on landings and a full-time CM per wing made ‘a huge difference’. They rated twice-daily SO wing briefings, monthly training shutdowns and the ‘massive’ gain from kiosks (e.g. cuts workload & staff-prisoner issues, gives prisoners ‘responsibility’).
Managers agreed it was ‘a family’ (‘more than many places’) with staff who were committed to ‘making a difference’. Phones & kiosks (especially) were very highly valued. They said safety was ‘good now’ (‘much better’), with VR teams of staff & peer reps ‘crucial’, alongside Keywork (‘going really well’, and welcomed by all). They valued strong leadership, the No. 1’s ‘clear direction’, and the two ‘fantastic’ libraries and outreach trolley (e.g. help for new readers, outside adult literacy group Toe-by-Toe, author visits & readings, events, and ‘helpful’ guidance for all). They rated regular job fairs with outside employers and the Standout charity’s training. They praised the 12-bed mental health unit (run on TC lines), ‘excellent’ local mental health service support, and full health screening (e.g. for blood-borne viruses) on the second day (recognised as good practice). They also valued a video conferencing centre which they said will allow remote court appearances, take pressure off reception, and ‘save a fortune’ in escorts.