Prison conditions in 2017

Life in prison

The Chief Inspector of Prisons and his team are acutely aware that people may be getting increasingly desensitised to inspection reports many of which describe very similar situations — increased violence; drug use; poor conditions and prisoners spending far too much time locked in their cells.

For this reason, they have published today (10 October 2017) a new report: Life in Prison — Living Conditions. Here’s the first two paragraphs of the introduction reproduced in full:

Some people may feel a sense of déjà vu or world-weariness when they hear repeated accounts of poor conditions in our prisons. Many reports from HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMI Prisons) have pointed out that, all too often, prisoners are held in conditions that fall short of what most members of the public would consider as reasonable or decent.

I would urge readers not to assume this paper is simply another account of some dilapidated prisons, but to look at the details of what we describe, and then ask themselves whether it is acceptable for prisoners to be held in these conditions in the United Kingdom in 2017.

It is, of course, right to point out that not every prison holds its prisoners in poor conditions. On the whole, high security prisons, women’s prisons and open prisons provide decent conditions and some good facilities. However, in many of the local prisons and training prisons, the picture is bleak.

Bang up

Prisoners cannot benefit from education or training if they are confined in their cells for long periods, and they inevitably become frustrated, angry or turn to drugs to ease the tedium. Inspectors found that in local prisons 31% of prisoners report being locked in their cells for at least 22 hours a day, rising to 37% at young adult prisons (holding prisoners aged 18–21). They found large numbers of prisoners at some jails who were locked up for more than 22 hours a day, or throughout the working day.

Overcrowding

The cells in which prisoners are confined for these excessive periods of time vary greatly in their condition, but poor conditions are exacerbated by overcrowding. Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) themselves report that in 2016/17 nearly 21,000 prisoners out of some 85,000 in total were held, by their own definition, in overcrowded conditions. This proportion rises in local prisons to over 15,000 of the 31,800 held in such establishments – or 48%.

Overcrowding often occurs when two or more prisoners are held in a cell designed to hold one. These often have an unscreened or inadequately screened lavatory, frequently without a lid, or sometimes with a makeshift lid made of cardboard, pillowcases or food trays. In these same cells, prisoners are frequently required to eat all their meals – in what are obviously insanitary, unhygienic
and degrading conditions.

The risks to health inherent in flushing open lavatories in confined spaces which have to serve as a bedroom and dining room (and sometimes as a kitchen) are described in this report and deserve close attention. The accounts from prisoners of what it feels like to eat and sleep in what is, in effect, a shared lavatory make for compelling reading. To compound all of this, inspectors’ surveys suggest that in only around half of our prisons are prisoners able to get cleaning materials for their cells every week, and ventilation of too many cells is poor.

Other issues

In terms of personal hygiene, most prisoners say they are able to have a shower every day, but this falls to 51% in those prisons holding young adults. There is a mixed picture for other issues that have an impact of the everyday lives of prisoners, with about two-thirds of prisoners saying they can get clean sheets each week, and access to telephones is obviously dependent upon prisoners having enough time out of their cells to be able to queue and make a call.

Cockroach among the litter

All prison posts are kindly sponsored by Prison Consultants Limited who offer a complete service from arrest to release for anyone facing prison and their family. Prison Consultants have no editorial influence on the contents of this site.

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