The prison service’s former director-general has criticized the “disarray” in the system which he says played a role in Daniel Khalife’s escape.
The terror suspect went missing from HMP Wandsworth on Wednesday, sparking an ongoing manhunt.
On Saturday Phil Wheatley spoke of the “chaos” of the system and similar concerns were highlighted by Conservative former justice secretary Sir Robert Buckland, who described the prison service as “forgotten”.
They join others questioning the system after Khalife’s escape – including Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor, who said “in an ideal world” Wandsworth would be closed but “there are just enough prisons” for the population of inmates.
Mr Wheatley told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that the terror suspect’s escape highlighted that the prison system was “in a degree of chaos at the moment”.
“It’s very difficult to get anything going when you’re managing day after day with too many prisoners and too few staff,” he said.
“So I would be surprised in the long run if that wasn’t one of the factors causing things to not work properly.
“The system is almost at capacity, there is an overflow into police cells, leading to longer prison sentences.
“The government has been keen to punish offenders with longer sentences, but it has failed to provide prisons with enough staff to supervise them and has also failed to maintain existing prisons.
“They’ve spent their existing capital building new accommodation, while some of the older accommodation has had to be taken out of use because it couldn’t be maintained – so it’s all a bit of a mess.” Doesn’t look like a well-planned, well-thought-out project “Politics that are equipped with resources.”
Sir Robert said more prison space needed to be built to enable the closure of outdated sites such as HMP Wandsworth.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is important to emphasize that an escape like this is a quite extraordinary event and is reminiscent of escapes like Ronnie Biggs and George Blake from distant history.”
“However, there is no doubt that our prison service is a forgotten service in our country.
“It’s a service that people either don’t want to talk about or just don’t know enough about.
“We are running the prison service at an extremely high rate, around 98% of capacity, and I think that is not a desirable state of affairs. We need more capacity to allow flexibility.”
He said new facilities were not being built quickly enough to “close prisons like Wandsworth and other London prisons that are long past their sell-by date”.
The Ministry of Justice has been contacted for comment.
Wandsworth Prison’s performance was deemed to be of “serious concern” and watchdogs had issued a series of warnings about the prison last year before Khalife’s escape.
The Category B Men’s Reception and Resettlement Prison, which opened in 1851, is one of just nine of 119 prisons in England and Wales whose performance has recently been called into question.
https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/daniel-khalife-prison-escape-london-wandsworth-chiswick-manhuntmet-police-crime-b1105952.html “Chaos in the prison system” will have played a role in Khalife’s escape