After constant criticism that UK prisons are bursting from within, the last thing the government needed was a damning report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons declaring Wormwood Scrubs as ‘filthy and dilapidated’.

A known 22 per cent of inmates claimed they felt unsafe; there have been five suicides in 2013 alone and a recorded 100 assaults on staff and prisoners in the six month before May – when the inspection took place. Only in January it found that the number of deaths in 2013 were the highest for six years with 70 suicides. What does this say about the quality of life of prisoners today?

Some like to moan that we have gone soft on inmates nowadays with three meals a day, TV, music lessons and many more privileges. However, earlier this year the Earned Privileges reform introduced in 2013 resulted in all sorts of media controversy. The restriction of certain parcels including books, writing materials and stamps, unless prisoners demonstrated good productive behaviour, were criticised by the Prison Reform Trust. They claimed it threatened ‘supportive relationships and rehabilitation’ hindering their basic human rights. Many had a case; it was bizarre to think that taking away opportunities that allowed prisoners to engage with others and keep them occupied with activities which prevented violence and inmate disputes was a good idea.

However, the authorities have claimed that these efforts are part of an initiative to get tougher on crime by trying to engage prisoners in positive activity as a way to earn ‘privileges’ and ‘work’ towards ‘rehabilitation’. Not so. All it does is create a circle of deprivation leading to ever growing frustration from within. Some would argue that the astounding rate of reoffending in the UK is a problem (more than one in four criminals reoffended within a year in 2013) and put it down to the assumedly alternative lifestyle prison offers. However, one also has to consider that prisons also offer an environment where crime is prone to thrive, leading to possible reoffences.

There is no easy solution and few have answers. What is certain is our prisons need attention. No holiday camps involve overcrowded cells, drug tests, broken windows and in most cases filthy toilets. When Wormwood Scrubs made the decision to continue to ignore the prison’s ombudsman’s recommendations on self-harm prevention, they chose to put these prisoners’ lives at risk and not treat them like the priority they are meant to be. Yes, these are criminals and they should be punished accordingly. But how can we expect prisoners to rehabilitate successfully when they are not even provided with the environment and care necessary?

The Wormwood Scrubs scandal is just another brief headline to add to the legacy of Britain’s prison problem. However, more needs to be done to ensure that reforms in our jails genuinely benefit the inmates’ rehabilitation.

This is a challenge, but one worth fighting for.

DISCLAIMER: The articles on our website are not endorsed by, or the opinions of Shout Out UK (SOUK), but exclusively the views of the author.