In his chef’s uniform, the 21-year-old sneaked out of the kitchen, tied himself under a van with strips from his bed linen – and escaped from one of the country’s most famous prisons.

The cinematic escape of a terror suspect from London’s Wandsworth Detention Center sent shockwaves through Britain last week. For days, officials searched for the ex-soldier, who is said to have planted dummy bombs on a military base, among other things. Finally a plainclothes police officer caught him.

Poor prison conditions

But even though the man was caught, there is great excitement. While the suspect is now facing trial for breaking out – a criminal offense that does not exist in Germany – the miserable prison conditions are being discussed in the country.

Overcrowding, rat infestations, gang violence, staff shortages: His Majesty’s Prisons are considered completely dilapidated. Some of the buildings date from the 19th century and have never been properly modernized.

Horrifying descriptions from Boris Becker

The German ex-tennis star Boris Becker also described difficult hygienic conditions and conflicts among the prisoners after his release from prison. “It was very brutal, a very, very different experience to what you see on TV and hear in stories,” Becker told the BBC in April.

He quickly learned that he needed protection and that he had to surround himself with “tough guys.” “You fight for survival every day.” In Wandsworth, a prisoner tried to blackmail him – fellow prisoners protected him. On Sunday, an inmate was stabbed and seriously injured by another.

Follow-up questions and problems after the outbreak

After escaping Wandsworth, 40 prisoners were transferred to other prisons. As a precautionary measure, as Justice Minister Alex Chalk emphasized. But questions remain.

Why was a terror suspect not housed in a maximum security prison, but in a detention center that is considered a transit station for those who are about to be tried or who have just been sentenced? Or: Why was a terror suspect allowed to work in the kitchen? This will now be investigated.

But fundamental problems remain. It was only at the end of July that Wandsworth received the lowest possible rating in a review, and the authorities were deeply concerned. During inspections it was repeatedly found that up to 80 percent more inmates were housed there than intended – it “remains one of the most overcrowded prisons in the country, and most prisoners share a single cell,” the responsible supervisory authority stated.

Criticism from human rights organizations

Local MP Rosena Allin-Khan criticized the fact that only seven judicial officers were responsible for 1,500 prisoners in one night. Another time there was no running water for six days.

The conditions in English prisons have long been denounced by human rights organizations and the state inspectorate. According to the World Prison Brief website, the 118 prisons in England and Wales are operating at 111 percent of their official capacity, holding more than 87,000 prisoners. For comparison: In Germany the occupancy rate is around 78 percent.