An end to excessive cellular confinement in UK prisons

Cardiff Group AGM Motion: Update for Groups and Members

We urge all groups and members to vote in favour of the motion proposed by the Cardiff Group, which is to be debated at the video conference on 19th September. The motion is as follows:

AGM Motion

This AGM instructs Amnesty UK to campaign to end excessive cellular confinement in UK prisons (often amounting to 22 or more hours in cell per day) and to urge the UK government to establish a legally enforceable minimum standard of 8 hours a day out of cell (whether solitary or shared),

The need for this motion is explained in the background notes reproduced below at the end of this update. However, the motion was prepared before the Covid 19 pandemic and does not take account of what is now a far worse situation. Much of the information below comes directly from prisoner contact: –

  • Rather than the Pre-Covid situation of around 20% of UK prisoners being confined to cells for over 22 hours day, it is now the case that virtually all prisoners are confined to cells for 23 or more hours a day, every day.1
  • There are reports of some prisoners not being released from cells for days and sometimes the short periods out of cell are arranged at the beginning of one day and the end of the next, resulting in confinement unrelieved for around 30 hours.
  • Many cells have inadequate ventilation and space and in the recent hot weather some prisoners recorded temperatures of 38 degrees in cells.
  • In the short 30 minutes or so out of cell many prisoners have to make the choice of a shower, a telephone call or a brief period in the open air.
  • Many prisoners are sharing a space designed for one person, this may be worse than the experience of those held in solitary confinement.
  • Many prisoners are elderly, disabled, mentally ill or have learning disabilities, the affect on mental and physical health for all, but especially these groups, should be obvious
  • None of the prisoners we have contact with have any idea of when these restrictions may be eased, they have already suffered these conditions all day, every day for 6 months.

The response of the government and prison service is negligent and tokenistic and even the measures they suggest are in place are far from universally applied:

Extract of Response from Lucy Frazer MP Minister of State for Justice 7th May 2020 to letter from Numerous organisations and individuals fronted by Inquest and Women in Prison

You draw attention to the impact of restricted regimes. Though this means that prisoners are spending more time in cells, all establishments will continue to deliver the four key regime deliverables: food, family contact, prisoner safety and welfare and medication. …….We are also investing in measures to enhance the in-cell experience during this time. To support mental and physical wellbeing during this period, distraction packs and in cell activities have been collated and are now electronically available for all prison staff to access. Family contact is being maintained through in-cell telephony and, where this is not available, the provision of locked mobile handsets.”

The naivety and/or cynicism of such comments is distressing; even if this were true, and largely it is not, the level of confinement amounts to inhumane treatment and torture and the deliberate infliction of physical and mental illness and prolonged suffering. It cannot be beyond the wit of the authorities, in a time of national emergency, to release to their families or other safer environments, those who do not pose a realistic threat to society (notably the very old and disabled) and in turn create greater levels of freedom and constructive activity for groups of prisoners on a more reasonable, if necessary rotated, basis.

We are concerned that Amnesty’s Board do not sound favourable to this motion: –

Extract from Amnesty UK Board comments on our motion

The resources needed to implement this resolution centrally would be significant. AIUK would need to research the issue before undertaking any campaigning work and may need to recruit additional expertise. This is likely to require additional financial resources and the displacement of other activity.”

This is misplaced, firstly because the notion that Amnesty UK can ignore the ongoing inhumane treatment of 85,000 people in the UK is an anathema to the principles of the organisation, and secondly because the facts are already available and would require very limited research and resources to obtain. We surely do not require extensive research and investment to realise that being confined indefinitely in a tiny concrete cell for 23+ hours a day amounts to at least psychological, if not physical, torture.

We fully acknowledge that there are many instances of appalling prison conditions around the world which Amnesty has often highlighted. Wealthy democracies should set an example of good practice.

The one thing that might move the intransigent UK government and prison service to address this situation humanely is to be called out for inhumane treatment by the world’s leading human rights organisation.

Please support this motion

Background Notes (Based on the pre Covid 19 situation)

The need for acceptable standards has long been recognised in relation to torture and inhuman treatment:

  • “The CPT considers that one should aim at ensuring that prisoners in remand establishments are able to spend a reasonable part of the day (8 hours or more) outside their cell, engaged in purposeful activity of a varied nature. Of course, establishments for sentenced prisoners should be even more favourable”

European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) 2nd General Report of 1992 para 47.

  • “No prisoner shall be subjected to, and all prisoners shall be protected from, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, for which no circumstances whatsoever may be invoked as a justification.”

UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of prisoners The Nelson Mandela Rules (Rule 1)

General Assembly resolution 70/175, annex, adopted on 17 December 2015. (Emphasis added)

  • Every prisoner who is not employed in outdoor work shall have at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily if the weather permits. (Mandela Rule 23)

HM Inspectorate of Prisons has long recognised the dangers of excessive confinement.

  • “The amount of time spent outside cells is also critical to the mental health and wellbeing of prisoners. For those reasons, the public sector Prison Service has a key performance target (KPT) of 10 hours a day during weekdays for time out of cell. In nine prisons, (surveyed for the report) the best outcome for an unemployed prisoner amounted to less than four hours a day out of cell – and in a worst case could be less than an hour”. Time out of cell: A short thematic review (Introduction) December 2007

The 10 hour KPT has been abandoned and the situation has continued to deteriorate

  • 21% of UK prisoners were spending less than 2 hours a day out of cell.

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Report of 2014–15

  • “Even in Training Prisons, where people serve most of their sentence and work to reduce offending, one in five (20%) said they were locked up more than 22 hours a day”

Prison Reform Trust Bromley briefings Summer 2019 (p14)

  • The groups most likely to be unable to work and therefore confined to cells include the elderly, mentally ill, and learning disabled.
  • Self-inflicted deaths are 6.2 times more likely in prisons than in general population

Prison Reform Trust Bromley briefings Summer 2019

1 The only exceptions to this are the few prisoners employed in essential jobs such as kitchens or the laundry.

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