WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
June 11 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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Prisoners attempt escape from crumbling cell using plastic cutlery, report finds

Prisoners attempt escape from crumbling cell using plastic cutlery, report finds

HMP Wandsworth: Pic by Andy Aitchison

Prisoners at HMP Winchester on ‘several occasions’ had used ‘simple implements such as plastic cutlery’ to dig through crumbling cell walls, according to a prison watchdog. The memorable example of the disrepair of our prisons was included in the annual report of the Independent Monitoring Body (IMB).

Over the last year there were more than 37,700 visits to prisons, young offender institutions and immigration removal centres by 132 IMBs. The annual report highlights issues including overcrowding, violence, self-harm as well as conditions so dilapidated that they ‘gave rise to security concerns’. At Winchester, on one occasion a prisoner attempted to dig through their cell wall to the landing. At a separate facility, HMP Pentonville, had to delay its window-replacement scheme because there were not enough empty cells to move prisoners into. This was despite the fact that the scheme was ‘deemed extremely important for escape prevention’.

‘The physical state of disrepair across the prison estate, and some YOIs and short term holding facilities, meant some detained people were living or held in unacceptable environments,’ commented IMB national chair Elizabeth Davies. ‘Adult prisoners were kept in conditions described as inhumane, sometimes without access to basic sanitation, which had serious implications for their hygiene and dignity. Some children lived in poor conditions due to delayed maintenance and repairs.’

Other prisons had inadequate sanitation facilities, with defunct shared toilets, showers with broken floors, and faulty heating systems subjecting inmates to alternating extreme heat or cold. Some prisoners resorted to washing their hands with bottled water and using buckets as toilets. This resulted in what the IMB described as ‘serious consequences for hygiene and dignity’.

Apart from deteriorating infrastructure, the report also revealed rising levels of violence and disorder. Illicit items were an issue across all prisons, especially the drug Spice.

Linked to this were concerns over the use of force to keep prisoners in order. Not only were staff too slow to turn on body worn cameras, they also used force disproportionately against Black, mixed-race, and Muslim inmates at some prisons. The IMB has previously raised concerns about racial disparity in use of force incidents. The imbalance remains ‘unexplained’.

Once inmates exited prison, their prospects appeared to be little better. The IMB revealed that high numbers were being released homeless, and often not in the area where they had been imprisoned.

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