Pentonville: violence, drug abuse and squalor

The report called for investment into the prison, on Caledonian Road

The report called for investment into the prison, on Caledonian Road - Credit: Archant

An Islington prison is in “urgent need” of investment after a new report shed light on drug-fuelled violence.

HMP Pentonville, Caledonian Road, saw a 40 per cent increase in violent incidents in 2014/15.

The Independent Monitoring Board believes many of these are driven by legal high “spice”, a synthetic cannabis substitute that is difficult to detect.

On top of “squalid” conditions – as exclusively reported in the Gazette in July – “limited activity” for inmates and reduced staffing, it has led Pentonville monitoring board chairman Gordon Cropper to conclude rehabilitation of prisoners is almost impossible.

The annual report was released last week, and Mr Cropper told the Gazette: “I think prisons nationwide are facing difficulties, but Pentonville is probably facing many more.

“It wasn’t surprising. We have known for years that Pentonville is a very challenging prison with a very challenging population. It has lacked investment and the prison is struggling to keep to the standards required.

“We see improvements in certain areas and deterioration in others. But overall, it hasn’t been improving, despite the considerable efforts of staff.

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“It’s urgently in need of investment. It hasn’t been sufficient in recent years.

“It’s certainly not going to improve without it. The requirements of a prison become more exacting as the years go on and it must have the appropriate resources.”

The layout of the four-block jail remains largely the same as when it opened in 1842. Its capacity is 1,310 – more than 400 above the Prison Service’s own recommended ideal capacity.

Mr Cropper added: “This really isn’t a good environment for rehabilitation. The resources are not there and it’s overcrowded. There are too many prisoners and not enough staff. The whole set-up is not conducive to rehabilitation.”

Pentonville: ‘a dangerous place’

The Independent Monitoring Board concluded that without investment, “Pentonville will go on failing to provide decency, will contribute nothing to rehabilitation – and will remain a dangerous place”.

Here, we look at some of the key areas highlighted by the report.


“We frequently hear anxieties expressed by prisoners for their personal safety. Attention to many everyday requirements is lacking, and limitations in the prisoners’ regime inevitably increase the level of frustration within the prison.

“The rising number of young prisoners aged 18-21, more than half of whom are on remand, and many of whom have active gang affiliations, has aggravated the situation.”


“Spice can lead to exceptionally violent behaviour. As well as the direct health effects of drugs and their role in motivating theft and robbery, the demand for drugs is a prime driver of much of the inter-prisoner debt-related violence, of the economics of gang structures, and potentially of corruption.”


“It is depressing to record that opportunities for rehabilitation are below what can be expected. Workshops offer insufficient places to keep all prisoners busy and give negligible opportunities to obtain worthwhile work qualifications.

“Education provision engages fewer prisoners than it should, and the prison library is scandalously underused.”


“Pentonville has had to adapt to reduced staffing levels which have led to restrictions in the regime and have also contributed to poor morale.

“But it would be wrong not to place on record that we see many staff, at all levels, making sterling efforts to provide a decent environment and to attend to the proper needs of prisoners. It is greatly to their credit that there has been a 29 per cent fall in the recorded number of incidents of self-harm this year.”

The Gazette approached the Ministry of Justice for comment on Friday, asking if there are any plans for investment at the prison. There was no response as we went to press yesterday.