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Serious questions raised by solitary confinement in prisons

·3 min read

Prolonged solitary confinement is an extreme form of treatment, prohibited in all circumstances under international law. Your article (Fifty-two prisoners in close supervision units ‘that may amount to torture’, 26 July) exposed this practice in highly restrictive prisons.

Prolonged solitary confinement has in fact become routine in all prisons during the pandemic, with many individuals being confined alone or with a cellmate for 22 to 24 hours each day since March 2020.

A report by Medical Justice and Bail for Immigration Detainees published last month documents the profound harm this has caused to people held indefinitely in prisons beyond the end of their criminal sentence for immigration reasons. Our clients describe the distressing decline in their mental health, instances of self-harm and increased suicidal thoughts. Some suffered from alarming symptoms, including involuntary shaking, memory loss and pain. People with mental health conditions and survivors of torture or trafficking are at particularly high risk. As one client told us: “I would describe solitary/segregated confinement as psychological torture. I feel like I’m being stripped of my identity, that my personality is being broken down.”

Subjecting an already vulnerable population to prolonged solitary confinement raises serious questions about how far the UK will go in subjecting people to inhumane and degrading conditions, and how they are getting away with it.
Emma Ginn Director, Medical Justice, Annie Viswanathan Director, Bail for Immigration Detainees

• Well done for highlighting the close supervision centre (CSC) system of prisons within prisons and exposing cruel and inhuman treatment. As a lawyer I represent a number of people detained within CSCs; it is remarkable that some spend many years detained in such units with little progression, which appears related to resource issues and proper care/treatment. Several prisoners have served more than 10 years within CSCs, and at best they receive one hour of psychology a week and less than one hour out of their cell per day. The CSC regime amounts to deep custody with no independent oversight. This is not right. In the words of Nelson Mandela: “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
Dean Kingham
Solicitor, London

• You express the view that a “better policy would be sending fewer people to prison” (Editorial, 27 July). A significant start to that aim would be for the Ministry of Justice to re-examine the use of the “electronic tool” used by probation officers to decide what sentence to propose within court reports. Last year this resulted in over 3,000 reports recommending custody, a likely underestimate of a true annual figure, due to the substantial reduction of prosecutions arising from coronavirus restrictions. The revision to the “electronic tool” is particularly necessary in the case of female offenders, where many sentences are for less than six months, in the majority of cases for non-violent offences.
Howard Thomas
Chief probation officer, North Wales, 1985-96

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