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Safety failings and violence soars at one of the country's oldest prisons

MEN are being “cooped up like battery hens in overcrowded cells” at a jail that has had soaring levels of violence recorded, a prison reform charity warned today.

Campaigners from the Howard League for Penal Reform spoke out after a new inspection report on HMP Pentonville in north London warned of “clear and serious” problems.

Chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke found Pentonville was “was overcrowded, had suffered from underinvestment and was in a generally poor physical state.”

Dozens of inspectors spent nearly a fortnight touring the site in April before releasing their forensic report today which ran to more than 100 pages.

A marked increase in violence had left a third of prisoners feeling unsafe as gangs and drugs plagued the jail, they said.

The chaos left prison officers using “significantly” more force, on 419 occasions in the last six months, “yet oversight and accountability were lacking.”

Former Met policeman Mr Clarke warned: “There was no scrutiny by managers of use of force documentation or video footage.”

Four prisoners had taken their own lives since 2017 and the prison had not implemented all the recommendations made by investigators who probed their deaths.

Frances Crook from the Howard League said: “The shameful overcrowding in Pentonville prison puts everyone in danger — the staff, the prisoners and the public.

“Keeping men cooped up like battery hens in overcrowded cells with nothing to do is never going to help them to lead crime-free lives on release.

“With a flurry of announcements to the media, Boris Johnson has put himself at the front and centre of the fight to keep drugs out of prisons and prevent crime.

“Reports like this reveal the scale of the challenge that he has set for himself, and the Howard League will hold him to account for what happens next.

“It is hard to understand how splashing £100 million on security measures behind bars will address the fact that, too often, prisoners are given nothing to do and released with nowhere to live.

“If nothing is done to sort that, prisons such as Pentonville will continue to be like polluting factories, spewing out more and more crime into the communities around them.”

Phil Copple, the director general for prisons, said he was “under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge at HMP Pentonville,” but trusted that newly appointed managers would make “real improvements.”

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