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A report has condemned Pentonville Prison for the overcrowding of inmates and a lack of purposeful activity offered to them.

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While some improvements since last year’s inspection were noted, the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) of the prison in Caledonian Road, Holloway found a number of areas of serious concern further impacted by budget cuts.

The IMB said in its report released yesterday (Wednesday) that the jail’s population is 1,250 – around 38 per cent higher than its uncrowded capacity – with the out-dated Victorian design requiring urgent upgrading to reach acceptable standards.

It welcomed “determined efforts” to reduce smuggling and corruption which has reduced illegal drug usage, but random tests showed that around 12 per cent of prisoners had illegal substances in their system and around 20 per cent of the jail’s population are on heroin substitute methadone.

Improvements were found in efforts to tackle violence, identify vulnerable inmates and placing an increased emphasis on the prevention of re-offending with better links between the prison and outside agencies developed.

But the IMB said budget cuts in staffing levels – and further “severe” reductions to come – will heavily impact on the availability of positive activities such as education and training.

David Miller, chair of the Pentonville Prison IMB, said: “In some ways the prison is a microcosm of society outside, where problems of mental illness, drug abuse and educational failure are concentrated and made starkly visible

“For the sake both of the prisoners, and for the sake of the rest of society with whom they will have to live after release, the prisons need to make the maximum use of their period of custody and control to try to influence their future behaviour for the better.

“Mere passive confinement, though cheaper than rehabilitation programmes and remedial education, is entirely counter to the public interest in reducing crime and does not solve society’s problems.”

A Prison Service spokesperson said: “All of our prisons provide acceptable levels of accommodation for prisoners, although some prisons hold more people than they were originally designed for. We are aiming to reduce the existence of crowding alongside reducing the cost of the prison estate.

“Purposeful activity has gone up over the last year and we are working on increasing the number of potential work placements at the prison.

“The report by the IMB at Pentonville will be fully considered by ministers and we will respond in due course.”

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