There have been numerous disturbances and protests. 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. David Ramsbotham, Chief Inspector of Prisons, delivered a damning report on the conditions and regime in which he gave the prison 12 months to improve or close. Since then, the Prison Service has poured resources and relocated talented governors to tackle problems. Subsequent inspections have generally been favourable, and the prison is now held to be one of the better local prisons in the UK. The nearest tube station is East Acton.
CBBC's The Slammer features Wormwood Scrubs Prison in the titles.
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.
Comedian Spike Milligan recorded "The Wormwood Scrubs Tango" about an elderly car thief in the prison.
Pete Doherty served time in the prison.