WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
February 19 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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Prisons using ‘inhumane isolation’ to segregate prisoners with mental health needs

Prisons using ‘inhumane isolation’ to segregate prisoners with mental health needs

Prisoners return from their jobs to their wings for lunch at Wandsworth prison..HMP Wandsworth in South West London was built in 1851 and is one of the largest prisons in Western Europe. It has a capacity of 1456 prisoners.

Prisons are using segregation as a way to deal with inmates that are suffering from severe mental health issues. A new report has found forcing people into ‘inhuman isolation’ is worsening the conditions of prisoners rather than effectively managing their conditions.

Segregation is a tactic normally used to separate an individual prisoner from others due to poor behaviour, or for their own interests and protection. Segregating prisoners with mental health needs is normally justified with the latter and are placed in Care and Protection Units (CSU). This comes as the Ministry of Justice has reported that self-inflicted deaths in prison have soared by almost a quarter in the last year.

However, a report by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), tasked with monitoring of prisons and immigration detention,  has revealed that these CSUs are not suitable or appropriate for prisoners with mental health issues.

In one incident highlighted in the report they found that ‘Mr H’ had repeatedly self-harmed being placed in a CSU for 800 days. Despite being transferred to a special psychological unit, his behaviour deteriorated, and he was placed back in the CSU. Those like Mr H who are at threat of self-harm and suicide require constant supervision while in the CSU to reduce the risk of self-harm and intervene in an emergency.

However, the report has found that many CSU cells were unsuitable for constant supervision but were still being used. In some places the CSU are simply not fit for purpose and prisoners have had to be transferred to another establishment.

The report gives the example of an IPP prisoner within a high security prison with a personality disorder, who was segregated for over 800 days before being successfully transferred to an appropriate unit.

Elizabeth Davies, IMB National Chair said: ‘While local IMBs found that overall staff worked hard to support prisoners in the best way that they could, collectively they have reported a disturbing picture of mentally unwell men spending lengthy periods in isolation, which often results in a deterioration of their mental health.’

‘In the meantime, segregation will continue to be used as the wrong tool to manage the mental health crisis in prisons.’