WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
June 13 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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Operation Safeguard to have ‘catastrophic’ impact on prisoners’ safety

Operation Safeguard to have ‘catastrophic’ impact on prisoners’ safety

Pic by Andy Aitchison from Proof magazine (HMP Winchester)

Last week the Ministry of Justice urgently requested the use of over 400 police cells after an overcrowding crisis in English prisons, and facing a surge of more than 800 newly incarcerated prisoners in the last two months.

Justice minister Damian Hinds MP told the House of Commons that the situation urged enacting Operation Safeguard, an emergency protocol which would allow the use of up to 400 police detention cells to hold people overnight (or sometimes even longer) when the prison services cannot take in any more prisoners. Crucially, the emergency protocol has not been enacted since 2008. The Prison Governor’s Association also warned that this plan would cost taxpayers.

Hinds assured parliemant last week that this was an established procedure that would ‘ensure our prions system can operate effectively and safety during periods of high demand.’ The Prison Trust Reform disagreed, arguing that the protocol is problematic and would risk prisoners’ safety. The initial remand into custody, commonly known to have the highest risk of self-harm and suicide, is breached in this protocol. Prison staff in the protocol are unable to ensure that prisoners get settled as quickly as possible and check for mental health issues that might increase risk of suicide and self-harm during the process.

The operation was met with further criticism, labeled a ‘crass, ad hoc and dangerous turn’ that ‘will exacerbate harm;’ it ‘could not be more cynically titled.’ Operation Safeguard ignores the difference between detention cells and prison cells  and the risk of harm this poses to prisoners. Prisons are, in theory, designed to provide ‘humane conditions’, which would theoretically ensure the ‘health, safety, and welfare of prisoners and prison officers.’ Detention cells on the other hand are designed for stays of shorter durations, days rather than months on end, therefore lacking the safely measures that prison cells would normally have.

Commentators noted that this policy ‘smacks of desperation’ and ignores sound evidence from inspection, monitoring bodies, various inquest, and reviews on the already broken prison system. It risks being a ‘profound mistake with potentially catastrophic results.’

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