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European Committee for the prevention of torture report on the treatment of inmates in the UK

A report from the European Committee for the prevention of torture and inhuman treatment on the living conditions and treatment of inmates and immigrants in the UK shows that there is tension between staff and prisoners and use of violent language. There is also evidence that there is violence between inmates and a lot of it probably goes unreported, according to the report. Also, the is a problem of overcrowding in prisons and immigration centers. 

“The CPT’s delegation received almost no complaints about physical ill-treatment of inmates by staff in the prisons visited. Nevertheless, it did receive a few complaints about verbal abuse and observed tense relations between staff and inmates. It was, however, deeply concerned by the amount of severe generalized violence evident in each of the prisons visited, notably inter-prisoner violence and attacks by prisoners on staff. Injuries to both prisoners and staff, documented over the previous three months, included inter alia cases of scalding water being thrown over victims and ‘shank’ (make-shift knife) wounds, and frequently required hospitalization and in one case resulted in the death of an inmate”, the report shows.

The European Committee observed that violent incidents between were not always reported by staff and some inmates said that staff responds slowly to such incidents. This is one of the reasons why inmates don’t trust prison personal.

“Moreover, the delegation observed first-hand that violent incidents were not always reported by staff. While the number of recorded violent incidents at all prisons visited was alarmingly high, the CPT believes that these figures under-record the actual number of incidents and consequently fail to afford a true picture of the severity of the situation. Further, inmates at both Doncaster and Pentonville Prisons complained that staff responded slowly to violent incidents. This fueled a feeling of fear and a perception of a lack of safety among inmates. The consequence was a lack of trust in the staff’s ability to maintain prisoner safety. As a start, the CPT recommends that the time taken to respond to inmates’ call bells be improved. The CPT is also not convinced of the effectiveness of the specific ongoing measures initiated to reduce and prevent violence and recommends that a far greater investment in preventing violence be undertaken”, the report shows.

Immigrant removal centers in England

When it comes to the conditions in which immigrants are housed in removal centers in England, the report shows that they are overall good, but for those that stay there longer periods of time, there should be more activities like learning language skills to help them cope with a new environment.

“The living conditions and regime were generally good for the average length of stay, but for persons held longer than a few months a broader range of activities should be developed. There is also a need for the management to ensure that the induction process properly identifies the language skills of women entering the Centre and that appropriate additional support is afforded to those women having no common language”, the report read.

European experts expresses concern over the indefinite nature of immigration detention and request detailed information on the measures taken to address the recommendations made by the 2016 Shaw Review into the welfare in detention of vulnerable people. Experts  also considers that foreign nationals that are not deported at the end of their sentence should be transferred immediately to a facility that can provide conditions of detention and regime in line with their new status of immigration detainees.

The evaluation of psychiatric institutions

The Committee representatives also visited psychiatric institutions, where they observed a lack of sufficient staff to care for the mentally ill.

“CPT considers that there are a few areas which require serious reflection and change; notably, consent to treatment safeguards need to be reinforced during the first three months of involuntary placement in a hospital; the powers of the Mental Health Tribunal (the Tribunal) need to be reinforced and expanded to deal with appeals concerning such issues as consent to treatment, transfers to more secure hospitals, the use of means of restraint and the application of specific treatment measures. Additionally, steps need to be taken to recruit and retain registered mental health nurses, whose numbers have decreased by more than 8.5% since 2009”, the report says.

European experts have three main concerns regarding safeguards for persons who are involuntary placed in hospital. First, to avoid as far as possible holding mentally ill people in police cells, then the safeguards surrounding consent to treatment, which need to be reinforced.

Experts also consider that an external psychiatric opinion should be required in any case where a patient does not agree with the treatment proposed by the establishment’s doctors. “Further, patients should be provided with the possibility to appeal against a compulsory treatment decision to the Tribunal from the outset of their hospitalization. Third, the Tribunal should have the possibility to examine ex officio all sectioned patients at least once a year as the current three-yearly intervals after the first year are incompatible with modern mental health legislation and practice”, according to the report.

Joanna Lewis