Pentonville prison is “shockingly horrible” and “not fit for purpose”, according to a recently released ex-inmate.

Describing conditions inside a cell, Daniel Brown, 30, said: “It’s normal to have smashed windows, graffiti on the walls, a mattress that’s been cut to bits, having no hot and cold running water, cockroaches and mice coming under your door. Sometimes there’s no electricity in the cell, or there’s leaking water coming through the roof because the pipes have burst.

“You wouldn’t put dogs in those conditions. Somehow, it’s ok to put a human being in it.”

Brown was released from Pentonville in July 2022 after three separate stints totalling two and a half years inside.

He spoke after the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) released its annual report into Pentonville last month, labelling conditions inside as “neither decent nor humane.”

The 181-year-old prison is one of the oldest in the UK, designed to hold 520 men. As of September 2023, Pentonville’s prison population stood at 1189, according to government data published by the Ministry of Justice.

Pentonville’s operational capacity – the number of prisoners it can hold without serious risk to safety, security, good order and proper running – is 1,205.

The IMB said men were “crammed” into cells measuring 12ft by 8ft, almost always in pairs due to the high number of inmates. Brown said: “How do you expect someone to address their reoffending when they’re in a cell no bigger than a bathroom with two men [in it]?”

Two thirds of prisons in England and Wales are officially overcrowded.

Brown also said Pentonville was “swamped with drugs”, often brought in by drones. Despite positively engaging with drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, Brown was forced to share a cell with an inmate who was smoking spice and class A drugs. “It has a detrimental effect on your mental health,” he said.

The IMB also noted that one hour out of cell per day had become “normalised” in Pentonville. Brown explained that short staffing would lead to “skeleton crews” of prison officers without the resources to let prisoners out.

Cell “lockdowns” meant prisoners could only access the shower every three days, which were broken, mouldy or ice cold. Washing in the sink has become the norm. “That’s if your sink works,” said Brown. “The plumbing needs to be addressed. It’s Victorian.”

While violent incidents have reportedly decreased 12% from last year, high levels of contraband meant attacks were still frequent. “I’ve seen lockback knives like you get in the community, right to your homemade razor blades melted into a toothbrush,” said Brown. “I saw somebody's face get sliced open, from one side of his ear right to the bottom of his jaw.”

The IMB said Pentonville also has more gangs than any other London prison. Brown recalled a murder related to gang warfare whilst he was inside: “On B wing, you had a guy who was stabbed to death and thrown over the landing. You can cut the atmosphere with a knife.”

Alice Grotto, the IMB Pentonville chair, said: “Despite the hard work of staff and management, Pentonville remains an unfit place for prisoners to live or to be rehabilitated.”

The latest IMB report into HMP Pentonville highlighted the success the prison is having in disrupting and stopping contraband being brought in.

A Prison Service spokesperson said: “HMP Pentonville is undergoing major refurbishments and is launching new training and education programmes so prisoners can turn away from crime for good.

“Work is underway to improve the prison’s facilities including installing new showers and secure windows. We also continue to boost staffing levels, with specialist support being provided to crack down on the threat of gangs and organised crime.”

The Government says it is is pressing ahead with the biggest expansion of prison places by any government in over a century – delivering 20,000 additional spaces including six new, modern prisons.

It also said work is underway to provide prisons with more specialist support for managing the threat of gangs and organised crime networks.