One of the prisoners which Cardiff University’s Innocence Project has been working with has kindly agreed to share excerpts from his personal journal which he has kept throughout the pandemic. These entries truly show the cruelty of excessive cellular confinement and the impact that this practice has on the wellbeing of prisoners.
10th August 2020: Heatwave 35 degrees plus no air. Surely this must be unsafe and life threatening.
12th August 2020: 38 degrees in cells. This is cruel treatment, absolute torture. Keeping us isolated is arbitrary and irrelevant, being locked up 22, 23 28, 48 hours is about imposing full control, full compliance.
This prisoner gave numerous examples of prisoners from different wings mixing and of officers moving between wings. By all accounts this only served to increase frustration among prisoners that their isolation in-cell was not meeting the public health concerns it was intended to address. Understandably, this mixed messaging had an increased impact on the mental health of prisoners and people were left feeling that these pandemic response measures had swiftly become about simply creating a more controlled regime in prisons.
26th December 2020: Locked up all day No Nothing, No exercise, total lockdown.
27th December 2020: We had exercise after 48 hours of being locked up. This was every spur together that’s not a prophylactic measure.
28th December 2020: We were opened after 2pm for exercise after a 27 hour lock up period.
31st December 2020: No heating, no hot water, freezing cold day.
In November 2020, visits to prisons were once again stopped as cases of Covid-19 were increasing in the community. The Justice Inspectorate report (Feb 2021) notes that many prisoners were offered just a single 30min video call to family once a month and that there were regular reports of this being missed due to technical issues.
Throughout the winter of 2020, the minimal out of cell time that prisoners accessed was predominantly for the sole activity of outdoor exercise (as noted in the Justice Inspectorate report). The Met Office reports for the month show a particularly wet, and in parts snowy, December yet the prisoner we spoke with was still desperate for this outdoor time as it was preferable to the only alternative: remaining in-cell.
May 2021: Mr M was 51 appeared fit and strong. For a few days he kept telling staff and healthcare that he could not breath. They gave him Ibruprofen. As far as I know he did not see a doctor until he died.
June 2021: This year has been worse. I could carry on writing about this torture for days.
Day 492: This has been a time of abject torture, ill health, Death and No Hope.
1st August 2021: This weekend we are being forced to suffer barely half an hour exercise per day, this in no way mirrors the easing of covid restrictions in ordinary society.
As this prisoner notes, the summer of 2021 saw a relaxing of restrictions across the UK and a return to routine procedures in British hospitals. Yet the harsh and excessive use of cellular confinement continued in prisons. This continues to cause concern for prisoners, professionals and activists that what we are seeing is the start of a regime change for UK prisons where this cruel and inhuman practice becomes the norm.
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