Wormwood Scrubs

Coordinates: 51°31′0″N 0°14′25″W / 51.516667°N 0.24028°W / 51.516667; -0.24028

HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs (informally "The Scrubs") is a Category B men's prison, located in the Wormwood Scrubs area of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, in inner west London, England. The prison is operated by Her Majesty's Prison Service.

History

Wormwood Scrubs Prison was constructed completely using convict labour. The idea of doing so was originated in 1874 by General Sir Edmund du Cane of the Royal Engineers, and at that time the head of the Prison Department, who had been inspired by the construction of Sing Sing prison in the US. Du Cane was also the architect of the prison.

The initial steps in the winter of 1874 involved the construction of a small prison made of corrugated iron and a temporary shed to serve as a barracks for the warders. Nine specially picked prisoners, all within a year of release, completed the buildings after which 50 more prisoners were brought in who in turn erected a second temporary prison wing. Building then began on the permanent prison, with bricks being manufactured on site. By the summer of 1875 enough bricks had been prepared to build the prison's first block, whose ground floor was finished as winter began. Construction was completed in 1891.

During World War II the prison was taken over by the War Department and the prisoners evacuated. It was used as secure office space for the duration of hostilities and housed MI5 and MI8.

In 1979 there was a rooftop protest over visiting rights staged by IRA prisoners. 60 inmates and several prison officers were injured. In 1982, an inquiry blamed much of the difficulties on failings in prison management. The governor, John McCarthy, had quit before the rioting. He had described Wormwood Scrubs as a "penal dustbin" in a letter to The Times.

In the 1990s, a police investigation into allegations of staff brutality resulted in the suspension of 27 prison officers and the conviction of six for assault (three later won appeals against conviction). The Prison Service paid over £3 million in out-of-court settlements with ex-prisoners who had alleged brutality. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons delivered a damning report on the conditions and regime in which the prison was told to improve or close.

In March 2004, a further report from the Chief inspector stated that Wormwood Scrubs had greatly improved after making fundamental changes. Three quarters of inmates at the prison had said that staff treated them with respect, which was better than the national average. However the report also stated that inmates spent too much time in their cells, and only 36% of eligible inmates were involved in education or prison work.

In November 2008, another report from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector stated that conditions at Wormwood Scrubs Prison had deteriorated since the last inspection. Heightened prison gang activity had been detected, and 20% of prisoners had failed drugs tests.

On 10 March 2009 the prison was listed as a Grade II building, principally because of its distinctive gatehouse.

The prison today

Wormwood Scrubs is a Category B prison for adult males, sentenced or on remand from the local courts. The prison has five main wings plus a number of smaller dedicated units. All the accommodation has electricity and integral sanitation with a TV and accompanying bedroom furniture:

  • A wing - remand and sentenced prisoners
  • B wing - remand and sentenced prisoners
  • C wing - prisoners on an Intensive Drug Treatment System
  • D wing - workforce prisoners and Difficult to Manage prisoners
  • E wing - resettlement of prisoners unit
  • Super enhanced wing - enhanced prisoners who are considered to be trustworthy
  • Conibeere Unit - prisoners who require a substance misuse stabilisation regime

There is a contracted prison shop previously run by Aramark, but now run by DHL who provide a selection of consumables for purchase by the prisoners.

Notable former inmates
In popular culture

In films set in Britain, when someone is shown being released from prison, the front entrance of Wormwood Scrubs is frequently chosen as a filming location, e.g.

  • Billy Liar
  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
  • The Horse's Mouth
  • Hot Millions
  • A Very British Coup
  • Cass
  • The Sweeney (TV) - One Of Your Own
  • The Baron (TV) - Something for a Rainy Day
  • Porridge, in both the television series and film
  • Minder, in the episode The Birdman of Wormwood Scrubs

It is also mentioned in The Jam's hit song, "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight" and Billy Bragg's 'Rotting on Remand' from the Workers Playtime album. The Pete Doherty song 'Broken Love Song' is about the singer's tenure in the prison in early 2008.

Comedian Spike Milligan recorded "The Wormwood Scrubs Tango" about an elderly car thief in the prison.

A documentary entitled Wormwood Scrubs was aired on ITV1 in May 2010. It showed the life of the prisoners and staff over a two part series.

Author Sarah Waters published the book "The Night Watch" (No. 1 Bestseller) in 2006, one of the main characters had served his sentence at the Scrubs prison.

The prison is also mentioned in the Russian novel Figure-head, by Danil Koretsky (Данил Корецкий, Подставная фигура). The parents of the principal protagonist are held in HMP Wormwood Scrubs and are unsuccessfully sought-out by the Russian SVR.