Inmates dug through prison wall with plastic cutlery in Shawshank Redemption-style attempted breakout, report finds

22 May 2024, 14:37 | Updated: 22 May 2024, 14:41

Inmates dug through prison wall with plastic cutlery in Shawshank Redemption-style attempted breakout, report finds
Inmates dug through prison wall with plastic cutlery in Shawshank Redemption-style attempted breakout, report finds. Picture: Alamy

By Christian Oliver

Inmates were able to tunnel through Winchester prison walls using plastic cutlery in a Shawshank Redemption-style attempted breakout, a report has found.

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The damaging assessment of the dire state of facilities in England and Wales from the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) found population pressures and overcrowding had put a "tremendous strain" on prison life.

HMP Winchester - and other Victorian-era prisons - are in a "particularly dire" condition, the report said.

It cited the age of some prison buildings as making it difficult to keep facilities "functional and decent".

Winchester was particularly bad due to its "crumbling walls and roofs" leading to leaks, flooding and slip hazards, the IMB said.

"At Winchester, there were several occasions throughout the year when prisoners were able to damage and attempt to dig through cell walls, on one occasion through the wall to the landing, using simple implements such as plastic cutlery," the report said.

The tunnelling echoed Andy Dufresne's escape in the 1994 cult film where he used plastic forks to dig his way to freedom while covering the hole with movie posters.

Winchester prison, Hampshire
Winchester prison, Hampshire. Picture: Alamy

National Chair of the IMB Elisabeth Davies has now called for Victorian prisons like Winchester to be closed.

But she said infrastructure issues also affect more modern prisons like Five Wells in Northamptonshire - which was built in 2022 and was found to have design faults and unacceptable facilities.

Some prisoners at Coldingley, Isle of Wight, Grendon, Long Lartin and Bristol are living in "unacceptable conditions", the report also found. This was due to a lack of in-cell sanitation.

In women's prisons mental health services were described as "strained" and are unable to meet a high level of need.

Another Victorian prison, HMP Bedford, was found by a watchdog to be infested with rats and cockroaches.

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Prisoners said they "regularly saw vermin" and even resorted to "creating their own barriers to prevent vermin from coming into their cells".

The report said: “At Woodhill, built in 1992, the showers were of an unacceptable standard and the concrete flooring in many cells was breaking up, making it impossible to clean.

“At Five Wells, built in 2022, the board reported significant design faults that had yet to be corrected; these included poor airflow on landings, leading to uncomfortably hot temperatures in summer months, and low mobility cells which could not be occupied for safety reasons.“In some prisons, maintenance was delayed even when it gave rise to security concerns.

"At Pentonville, a window-replacement scheme deemed extremely important for escape prevention had to be halted because the prison was too crowded for the cells to be taken out of use.”

Chief inspector of prisons Charlie Taylor said: "Some of the accommodation in Bedford was the worst I have seen."

He said 24,000 more prison places are needed by 2028 as there "simply isn't enough space".

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "We are delivering an additional 20,000 modern prison places - including opening two new prisons in two years - to help rehabilitate offenders and keep our streets safe.

"At the same time, we're investing unprecedented amounts in education, employment and other support to put more offenders on the straight and narrow, and our £100m security crackdown including measures such as X-ray body scanners and specialist sniffer dogs is helping stop more of the contraband that fuels violence behind bars."