Emily Thornberry brands Pentonville “a disgrace to civilised society” and says it should be bulldozed
- Credit: PA Archive/PA Images
Emily Thornberry today said Islington’s HMP Pentonville is “a disgrace to civilised society” that should be bulldozed and replaced with smaller, modern prisons in central London.
Ms Thornberry has repeatedly called for the overcrowded, under-staffed and dilapidated Victorian jail to be closed and expressed her concern that inmates and staff continue to be put at risk.
Her latest plea comes a day after the independent monitoring board (IMB), a prison watchdog, delivered yet another damning report on the “inhumane” conditions at the secure facility, in Caledonian Road. The board publishes similarly critical reports every year, warning in 2016 that inmates were regularly being flown drugs by drone that they were taking inside the prison walls before collapsing.
The shadow foreign secretary told the Gazette: “Pentonville is miserable, unsafe and inhumane and I’m afraid this report shows it’s got even worse.
“It’s even more overcrowded now than it was during the Victorian era and the conditions are a disgrace to civilised society.”
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The IMB report highlights, for the third year in a row, that Pentonville has contraband-porous windows that urgently need to be replaced.
Ms Thornberry said: “Local residents residents always contact me about the gangs hanging around outside the prison who are getting the drugs through the windows.”
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This system also leads to weapons entering the prison, the devastating consequences of which were highlighted when inmate Jamal Mahmoud was stabbed to death in October 2016. The IMB report also notes a rise in Pentonville’s violent incidents this year, with 17 members of staff assaulted in March alone and an “increase in gang-related incidents during gatherings for prayer”.
“Pentonville should absolutely be closed,” said Ms Thornberry. “And replaced with smaller modern prisons in central London, rather than the middle of nowhere, so family can visit.”
She conceded parts of the prison are listed, such as the original gallows below, but said: “Hard decisions need to be made: either invest in improving the prison or the government needs to close it down.”
Ms Thornberry said the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), and the Home Office before it, have both made the mistake of not investing in Pentonville because they think they might knock it down one day but then “never get around to it”.
When asked what else the land could be used for, Ms Thornberry said: “If additional space became available in Islington people will want more affordable housing built.”
The IMB report also there noted there is a rodent infestation, and said: “Persistent overcrowding and the crumbling physical condition are incompatible with maintaining prisoners’ humanity and dignity.”
An MOJ spokesperson said: “We are investing £16m across the estate to bring prisons back up to acceptable standards, and work is underway to fix Pentonville’s old windows and grilles with around 30 per cent already replaced.
“The prison is seeing a reduction in drug use thanks to new netting, as well as regular sniffer dog and staff-led searches. In addition, 35 new prison officers have been recruited and we are working with charities to better identify and rehabilitate known gang members at Pentonville.”
They added: “The problems in our prisons will not be fixed overnight. But reducing crowding is a central aim of our modernisation plans - precisely why we have committed to delivering up to 10,000 new prison places across the country.”