The prison from which former soldier Daniel Khalife escaped “needs to be urgently closed,” the prison warden said.
Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor said “in an ideal world” Wandsworth would be closed but “there are just enough prisons” for the entire prison population.
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.
Governor Katie Price runs the Victorian prison, which houses around 1,600 defendants in London courts and offenders due for release in five wings.
Mr Taylor told Politics Hub with Sophy Ridge on Sky News: “When you find a prison like Wandsworth it really needs to be closed. “Ultimately it’s not a suitable prison.”
But he added: “You need prisons because you need to service the courts. We actually have a crisis in prisons at the moment, just in terms of the number of places.
“So at the moment there are just as many prisons and places available as the number of prisoners arriving.”
Mr Taylor said staff shortages were “the cause of many problems” at HMP Wandsworth.
While it is “worrying when someone escapes from prison” and this is “very rare now,” the nature of the allegations against Khalife makes this case “extremely worrying,” he added.
Khalife, 21, who was awaiting trial after allegedly planting a fake bomb at an RAF base and collecting information that could be useful to terrorists or enemies of the UK, was discharged from the army in May 2023.
It is believed he escaped by strapping himself to the floor of a van after leaving the prison kitchen wearing a chef’s uniform.
Speaking to the PA news agency, Mr Taylor said it should be “standard practice” for vehicles entering and leaving prison to be checked and that a prisoner must acquire a “certain level of confidence” to work in a kitchen to be allowed .
Prisons have two gates through which you can access the so-called “sterile” area for vehicles entering and exiting.
Inmates are not allowed into these areas and there are “strict rules” as to which gates can be opened. Both gates may not be opened at the same time.
Standard security measures include retransmission of CCTV surveillance footage to a control room, but also mirrors on a roll running under and on vehicles.
Mr Taylor said: “Something has obviously gone wrong in terms of safety and time will tell.”
“But the issue we are particularly concerned about is that there are too many prisoners at Wandsworth for the amount of staff there. And that’s ultimately the cause of a lot of the problems in the prison.”
In the annual prison performance assessments for 2022/23 published in July, Wandsworth was among nine people identified as a “serious problem”.
The overall performance score, based on a range of measures including security, rehabilitation and training and expressed as a 100% proportion, was 46.4% – one of the lowest of all 119 prisons.
Wandsworth received the same rating of “serious concern” in 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19.
Both Mr Taylor and the prison’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) raised concerns about staffing levels, among other things, in reports published last year.
Speaking about the “completely overcrowded” and vermin-infested site, Mr Taylor said his latest inspection found Wandsworth had a large number of “ineffective” staff – meaning they were unable to work for reasons such as illness and training.
“It was definitely one of the worst (prisons) we’ve ever seen and they had real problems having enough staff on site and of course that’s immediately a big problem for the prison because it means all the systems in the This puts prison under strain.
“What a prison should do is prioritize security over everything else because that is their primary mission, but if there are very serious staff shortages that will inevitably be a problem,” he said.
The latest Ministry of Justice figures show eight prisoners escaped in England and Wales in the 12 months to March 2023, none of whom were still at large 30 days after the escape.
This is a decrease from 12 refugees in the year ending March 2022, two of whom remained at large 30 days after fleeing.
Of the eight escapes in 2022/23, one was from Bedford Prison and the other seven were from contractor escorts.
The person who escaped from Bedford was not a category A prisoner and was caught within 30 days.
Escape attempts, defined as escapes from open prisons, are recorded separately.
https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/katie-price-prisons-victorian-wales-england-b1105690.html HMP Wandsworth must close, says the chief inspector of prisons