prison wormwood scrubs
A general view shows a detail of Wormwood Scrubs prison in LondonReuters

UK prison Wormwood Scrubs has been slammed by the prisons watchdog for its rat-infested and overcrowded conditions that left some inmates too frightened to leave their cells. A report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, released on 12 April, highlighted problems with safety and found that there was "little cause for optimism" about the Victorian jail, which houses 1,258 inmates.

It described levels of violence as high, with more than half of the prisoners stating they had felt unsafe in Wormwood and one in four saying they felt unsafe at the time of the inspection from 30 November - 4 December 2015.

"Levels of violence were far higher than at similar prisons and than at the time of the previous inspection," the report said, adding: "There was too little support for victims of violence and we found a number of prisoners on normal location who were in fear for their own safety and who accessed a limited regime as a result."

In addition, self-harm and suicide prevention measures were not found to be adequate, and there had been two deaths in custody at Wormwood since the watchdog's previous inspection in May 2014.

Two of the prisoners who were identified as being at risk of self-harm were left in a cell with broken windows with jagged glass, and most were locked in their cells "with little to keep them purposefully occupied".

During the inspection, a "serious vermin problem" had been observed, particularly in areas where rubbish was left to pile up, while many cells were said to be in poor condition with graffiti and broken furniture and windows a common feature.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "This shattering report on London's best-known Victorian jail reveals levels of Dickensian squalor which ought to have been consigned to the history books.

"Inspectors found deteriorating levels of safety, poor staff/management relations, high use of force, inadequate support for people at risk of suicide and self-harm and a prison awash with drink and drugs.

"Most men were locked up 22 hours a day and the prison was filthy and rat-infested. These inhumane, degrading conditions have no place in a modern justice system. No prison goes downhill overnight. Putting things right is a litmus test for a government publicly committed to reform."

A regime that restricted prisoners' time outside of their cells had also been running since the previous inspection, seeing those who were not engaged in employment or activity spending up to 22 hours per day locked in their cells, although this regime has now been relaxed.

There were also reports of victimisation of prisoners by staff, with only 63% of prisoners feeling staff treated them with respect, compared with a national 74% average.

In addition, inspectors said they witnessed some inappropriate and unprofessional exchanges between staff and inmates, also conceded there were also some good interactions between them.

The watchdog has made a number of recommendations to Wormwood Scrubs, which are intended to improve the condition of the prison, however 20 of the recommendations made during the last inspection were not achieved, while nine were achieved and three were partially achieved.