74. Memorandum from The Prison Reform
1. The Prison Reform Trust (PRT) is an independent
charity that works to create a just, effective and humane penal
system. We inquire into the system, inform prisoners, staff and
the wider public and seek to influence government towards reform.
PRT provides the secretariat to the Parliamentary All Party Group
on Penal Affairs. Each year we publish a number of reports on
all aspects of prison life that receive widespread media attention,
inform ministers and officials and lead to changes in policy and
practice. Our expertise and experience is recognised by HM Chief
Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales. About 4,000 prisoners
and their families contact our advice and information service
each year. We jointly produce a range of prisoners' information
booklets with the Prison Service.
2. Following our publication in 2000 of
A Hard Act to Follow which examined implementations of
the Human Rights Act (HRA) for prisoners and the Prison Service,
PRT has continued to monitor human rights observance in prisons.
We are also campaigning for voting rights for prisoners.
1. Article 2 of the European Convention
of Human Rights Act states that "Everyone's right to life
shall be protected by law". Public authorities, including
the Prison Service, must not cause the death of any person. They
also have a positive obligation to protect the right to life of
people in their care and to hold an effective investigation into
suspicious deaths and to enforce the law.
2. In 2002 there were 94 suicides in prisons
in England and Wales, a rise of 29 per cent on the previous year
(Prison Service data). In one week alone there were eight suicides,
five of them within 24 hours (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons annual
report 2001-02). In all, 20 per cent of men and 40 per cent of
women coming into custody say they have previously attempted suicide
(Prison Service data). Over 50 prisoners commit suicide shortly
after release each year (Reducing re-offending by ex-prisoners,
Social Exclusion Unit, July 2002). The Home Office is due to introduce
a system for independent investigation into deaths in prison custody.
3. The Prison Service has invested great
efforts to improve safety in prisons. It conducted a review of
suicide and self harm in February 2001. It has also introduced
a new order that eliminated the use of "strip cells"
for prisoners identified at risk of suicide or self-harm. The
practice had been widely recognised as degrading and according
to Prison Service Instruction 27/2000 was "likely to be challenged
under article 3 of the ECHR". But in her annual report 2001-02
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons has reported that in some prisons
this order is not being complied with.
4. The prison population has risen exponentially
over the past year. It currently stands at about 70,000. Over
the last 10 years the numbers have risen by 75 per cent. HM Chief
Inspector of Prisons annual report 2001-02 states: "the debilitating
and chilling effect of prison overcrowding" is threatening
5. A Prison Reform Trust report, Prison
Overcrowding: The Inside Story (September 2002), documents
how overcrowding has led to an increase in suicides and self-harm.
It is based on information from three quarters of the 140 Boards
of Visitors (BoV), the independent watchdogs appointed by the
Home Office in England and Wales. Overall 77 per cent said they
were concerned about the adverse affect prison overcrowding was
having on safety.
6. The BoV at Woodhill reported: "We
are concerned that they (staff) are not able to offer the appropriate
quality of assessment or evaluation of needs for prisoners' safety
and care, and indeed may miss early signs of self harm on arrival."
The BoV at Huntercombe reported: "On evening duties there
are no officers who could provide response to alarm bells."
The BoV at Downview, a prison that has recently been re-rolled
from a male to a female prison in response to the rapidly rising
female population reported: "The prison was simply not ready
to take women . . . Very rapidly there were four suicide attempts
on C Wing, one of which almost succeeded".
7. At the end of October 2002 there were
just over 14,000 prisoners sharing cells designed for one inmate
(Hansard, 2 December 2002).There is evidence from the Prison
Reform Trust report Prison Overcrowding: The Inside Story
(September 2002) that prisons are not carrying out proper risk
assessments for cell sharing. This is also reported in HM Chief
Inspector of Prisons annual report 2001-02. It should be noted
that the racist murder of the Asian teenager, Zahid Mubarak, by
his mentally ill cell mate at Feltham YOI in March 2000 happened
following inadequate risk assessment.
1. Article 3 of the ECHR states: "No
one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment
or punishment". The key question here with regard to prisons
is at what point do conditions become inhuman and degrading. We
note that from unsuccessful challenges under the Act that there
appears to be a very high threshold for what constitutes such
2. At the end of October 2002 over 16,000
prisoners were held in overcrowded accommodation (Hansard,
2 December 2002). This includes prisoners doubling up, those
held three to a cell designed for two and any prisoners overcrowded
in dormitories and larger cells. As noted above the Prison Reform
Trust report Prison Overcrowding: The Inside Story (September
2002) found that Boards of Visitors are deeply concerned about
the impact of overcrowding resulting in cramped accommodation,
more time in cell and the impact on vulnerable prisoners. Emergency
action has had to be taken by many prisons. At Winchester the
Board of Visitors reports that 60 per cent of cells in the main
prison have been doubled up.
3. The serious effects of overcrowding should
not be under-estimated. The Board of Visitors at Ranby states:
"Prisoners must use the toilet in the presence of their cell
mate. Also, there is only one chair in each cell, which means
that one prisoner must use the toilet as a seat when eating a
meal". The BoV at Dartmoor states: "There is no space
for either prisoner to exercise or undertake in-cell activity
without getting in the other's way . . . Some cell doors do not
open because of lack of space . . . None of these points, as far
as the Board is concerned, comply with basic needs of `dignity
and decency' as being promoted by the Director General. Some issues
may even contravene the HRA". (Prison Reform Trust Prison
Overcrowding: The Inside Story September 2002). One prisoner
held in a double cell with two other prisoners who contacted the
Prison Reform Trust said that overcrowded living conditions had
made him feel "introspective", "feel dirty"
and "angry towards cell mates".
4. Overcrowding is limiting regime activities.
In 2001-02 the Prison Service failed to meet its Key Performance
Indicator target of providing 24 hours of purposeful activity
per prisoner each weekthe Prison Service has met this target
just once in the last seven years (Monitoring Prison Regimes:
Prison Service Performance Against Key Performance Indicators,
Prison Reform Trust, August 2002). Time out of cell remains low
in many prisons. At HMP Bullingdon which has one of the worst
records on purposeful activity with just 13.8 hours a week, HM
Chief Inspector of Prisons recently reported: "In some case,
three men shared a double cell, where they could spend 22 hours
a day. Association was limited to four times a week, and provided
the only opportunity for showers and telephone calls" (HM
Chief Inspector of Prisons, report of a full unannounced inspection
of Bullingdon, January 2003). It should also be noted that the
Prison Service no longer guarantees time in fresh air for prisoners.
5. The Prison Service is failing to provide
adequate conditions in many prisons. Despite the formal abolition
of "slopping out" in 1996, not all cells have integral
sanitation. The Prison Reform Trust has learned of cases in two
prisons where buckets have been placed in cells on wings without
integral sanitation. The Scottish Prison Service has yet to end
this inhuman and degrading practice and should expect to be challenged
under the HRA.
6. Overcrowding is having a particularly
negative impact on some female prisons. There are now more than
4,000 women in prison, an increase of more than 170 per cent in
the last 10 years. At Eastwood Park, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
has reported that: "it is an establishment in crisis, unable
to provide a safe, decent and constructive environment for many
of the women and girls within it" (HM Chief Inspector of
Prisons annual report 2001-02).
7. The rising prison population and the
shortage of accommodation has also led to prisoners being inappropriately
held within prisons, for example being held in isolation in segregation
units. Elmley Board of Visitors reports: "Prisoners are continually
being held in the segregation units . . . Normally these prisoners
are only held inappropriately for one night. However . . . first
nighters have been held in segregation rather than in cells especially
allocated for first nighters. I personally have seen some very
inadequate first nighters held in segregation" (Prison Reform
Trust Prison Overcrowding: The Inside Story, September
8. The situation for vulnerable prisoners,
particularly the mentally ill, continues to be of great concern.
The Office of National Statistics has found that over 70 per cent
of prisoners suffer from two or more mental disorders (Psychiatric
Morbidity among Prisoners in England and Wales ONS 1998). In her
annual report the Chief Inspector of Prisons states: "severe
mentally ill prisoners are being inappropriately held in healthcare
centres where they are a danger to themselves, other prisoners
and staff . . . The practice of juggling those prisoners between
healthcare and the segregation unit, in order to provide respite
or healthcare staff continued in some prisons" (HM Chief
Inspector of Prisons annual report 2001-02). The Social Exclusion
Unit has reported that "many prisoners do not receive treatment
that matches their needs" and that prisoners are twice as
likely to be refused treatment for mental health problems inside
prison than outside (Re-offending by ex-Prisoners, SEU, July 2002).
Although the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention
of Torture has recommended that a doctor qualified in psychiatry
be attached to the health service of each prison (Council of Europe
2000), most prisoners with mental health problems are attended
to by doctors lacking such qualifications.
9. Unless the Prison Service improves the
conditions in our worst prisons, especially for vulnerable mentally
ill prisoners, violations of Article 3 may be found.
1. Article 8 of the ECHR states: "Everyone
has the right to respect for their private and family life, home
and correspondence". This prevents public authorities from
interfering disproportionately in a person's private life. The
issue of written correspondence has come up before the European
Court of Human Rights on many occasions and has led to the amendments
to the Prison Rules and to the administrative guidance to Governors.
2. Other areas that may be challenged under
article 8 include restrictions on visits, policies on searching
cells in the absence of the prisoner, distance from home and conjugal
visits. According to the latest figures 12,500 prisoners are held
over 100 miles from their homes (Home Office, October 2002), making
visits impossible for some people and undermining family life.
This is one of the major reasons why prisoners contact the Prison
Reform Trust. During the past 12 months many of the approximately
2,000 prisoners who have contacted PRT for advice and information
have expressed concern about distance from home and effects on
visiting. Overcrowding makes the situation worse. Prisoners are
often being transferred at short notice to less crowded prisons.
The Board of Visitors at Holme House reports: "Some prisoners
stated they had no idea where they were going until they stepped
out of the van to find they were in another part of the country.
Prisoner dissatisfaction with not being located nearer to families
. . . Families not knowing which prison he has been taken to"
(Prison Reform Trust Prison Overcrowding: The Inside Story,
1. Article 14 of the ECHR guarantees the
equal rights of all citizens to the rights set out in the Convention
regardless of "any ground such as sex, race, colour, language,
religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin,
association with national minority, property, birth or other status".
Areas that may be challenged under Article 14 include race relations,
including the treatment of foreign nationals and immigration detainees,
and the treatment of disabled prisoners.
2. In England and Wales over 15,000 prisoners22
per cent of the prison populationare from a minority ethnic
group. Afro-Caribbean's alone account for 15 per cent of the total
number of prisoners. They are more likely to be found guilty of
disciplinary offences and less likely to have access to constructive
activities. Minority ethnic staff are under-represented in the
Prison Service, especially at senior and operational levels. Just
one prison governor is from a minority ethnic group (Prison Service
data). Many prisons have an enormous mismatch between the ethnicity
of staff and prisoners.
3. Following the death of an Asian teenager,
Zahid Mubarak, at Feltham Young Offenders Institution in March
2000 and allegations made at other prisons the Prison Service
asked the Commission for Racial Equality to conduct an inquiry
into racism at Feltham, HMP Brixton, HMP Parc Prison and the Prison
Service's general policies on racism. The Director General of
the Prison Service publicly stated that the Prison Service is
institutionally racist. The CRE said its inquiry would be as influential
in the prison service as the Stephen Lawrence inquiry has proved
for the police. But a report is yet to be published and the Director
General of the Prison Service, Martin Narey, has said the failure
to complete the investigation has "cast a blight" over
attempts to tackle racism in prisons (Guardian, 15 June
4. There are also concerns about the treatment
of disabled prisoners. The Prison Reform Trust has been contacted
by disabled prisoners who have complained about being put in prisons
that lack appropriate facilities. In some cases they have been
unable to secure transfers to open prisons because they are not
fit for work and have had to remain in prisons with fewer facilities.
Although a member of staff is designated to undertake the role
of disability relations officer, duties and times are not ring
fenced and often eroded.
1. The Prison Service has a poor record
of safeguarding prisoners' rights. British prisoners have been
the largest single group to take cases to the European Court of
Human Rights and developments in prisoners' rights have largely
come from the courts and not from Government or Parliament. Since
the Human Rights Act became law, the Prison Service has been forced
into a number of embarrassing policy changes in response to HRA
violations. The Prison Service has consistently ignored warnings
that many of its policies and procedures violate human rights
law. There is little expertise of human rights law within the
Prison Service and a human rights culture is not embedded in prisons.
2. The establishment of a Human Rights Commission
could play a valuable role in ensuring that prisoners' rights
issues are widely considered. A commission could provide advice
and training to the Prison Service to bring its policies and procedures
within human rights standards; advise Government and Parliament
on human rights issues regarding legislation; use litigation where
appropriate; advise prisoners who believe their rights have been
infringed; conduct formal investigations if necessary; and help
develop a human rights culture in prisons.