The deployment of a controversial pepper spray in prisons was ‘unnecessary, disproportionate and unsafe’ and must be withdrawn, warned the Prison Reform Trust. The group was responding to the latest warning – the second in a month – from a prisons watchdog about roll out of PAVA which is sprayed into people’s eyes causing severe pain as well as violent coughing.
Yesterday HM Inspectorate of Prisons published its latest report into HMP Hull including concerns about PAVA which had been used three times in the previous six months including two incidents involving the use of a baton. Inspectors reviewed the prison records and video footage and concluded that use was ‘not necessary and was sometimes not proportionate or safe’.
Last month chief inspector Charlie Taylor reported that it was ‘very concerning’ to see increases in the use of PAVA spray at HMP Swinfen Hall as ‘the regime began to open up’ and warned against its deployment would become ‘a routine way of managing challenging behaviour’. In the 12 months up to May 2021, officers used the spray 17 times and ‘almost half of which had occurred in the last two months’.
‘The prison service is not in control of the weapon it’s put into officers’ hands,’ Dawson said. ‘The rollout has to stop, and PAVA must be withdrawn from the prisons where the standards promised just aren’t being met.’
Three years ago the Ministry of Justice announced it would roll out its use across all adult male prisons as a response to increasing levels of violence despite a six month trial revealing a high risk that it was likely be used unlawfully without additional safeguards.
‘At the very start of the pandemic, the government took a secret decision to accelerate the rollout of PAVA spray to all closed adult male prisons,’ said Peter Dawson, PRT’s director.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission backed a case challenging the PAVA roll out during the pandemic before agreed safeguards were in place which was supposed to lead to its use being more tightly controlled and monitored. ‘This should help prevent disproportionate use against prisoners sharing particular protected characteristics and improve scrutiny and accountability,’ the group said. About half of HMP Swinfen Hall’s prisoners are BAME.
Peter Dawson explained: ’When challenged in court, the prison service gave repeated undertakings about the central scrutiny that would be applied to make sure that PAVA was properly used. But yet again, the inspectorate have found that PAVA has been used without justification and that local safeguards are not working. PAVA use has been unnecessary, disproportionate and unsafe, and it’s taken the independent inspectorate to notice.’
Support the Justice Gap, buy Proof – new issue out