For one to even to consider suicide is quite a lamentable thing, and so are the current conditions in British prisons. It goes without saying there are all sorts of interventions going on in these establishments to prevent such things: they happen nonetheless. For prisoners in these places who are at risk of suicide and self-harm are referred to what is called an ACCT (Assessment, Care in Custody, Teamwork) document. This document, according to one senior prison officer is “an arse-covering exercise”, and this phrase has been reiterated ten times over by prison officers and medical staff alike in these wretched establishments. The process of the ACCT document is simple: It is opened once the prisoner is deemed a risk to themselves, they are checked on regularly during the night-time, depending on the risk they pose, it can be from every hour from the moment they are locked up until early the next morning. They also have regular meetings with the Mental Health Team, a senior officer on the wing and other officers. Only when they can be totally sure to pose no risk to themselves can they be taken of it. But what is seldom analysed is why they have gotten themselves in this rotten state in the first place.
People in prison are at risk of suicide for a whole manner of different reasons. One reason is because of the dreadful conditions in some of these prisons, and as the worsening conditions exacerbate, so does the prisoner’s health. For example, the Ministry of Justice are making life in prison desperately unbearable. In prisons throughout England and Wales the institutions fall into four categories, that is category A, B,C and D. Sometimes, however, it is hard to differentiate which is which. It would be helpful to determine which prisoner falls into which category. Category A is for the most serious prisoner. It is usually lifers who are subject to this, but not all lifers. Category B is, almost without exception, for people who are given a prison sentence of ten years or more. Those given a sentence under ten years are categorised as category C status. Finally, category D prisoners are for people who are ready to be released but not all of them; most prisoners are released from category C prisons. The men and women placed in category D prisons, which are open prisons, are often for people who have committed: “minor offences” or lifers and for people serving indefinite sentences, end their incarceration here.
Any right-thinking person would think these prisons are easily categorised; they are not. Category A prisons, of which there are only eight, alarmingly, are near identical to some category C prisons. So these prisoners who are serving relatively short sentences are living in high-security conditions, which makes the likelihood of suicide evermore possible. And as is the case, category A prisons and for that matter category B ones too, receive more funding than category C prisons, and in these prisons fewer privileges are available. In HMP Liverpool, formerly Walton, is a category B prison, and is worse than any category A establishment. It is a vast understatement to say it is a rather unpleasant abode; there have been reports by prisoners and this has been verified by the prison authorities that is infested with cockroaches and rats. This, one may add, are third world prison conditions. No wonder people continue to kill themselves in British jails.
The difference between HMP Manchester and Forest Bank are huge, and these prisons are both in the city of Manchester, if we pretend for a moment that Salford is in Manchester, the latter is a private prison and the conditions are somewhat better than the prison most famously known as Strangeways. On the face of it, it would appear both prisons existed in two separate countries. At present Strangeways only offers only one-hour visits for its prisoners; Forest Bank offers double that. By prison standards, the food at category B prisons is pretty impressive, and has little complaints. The food at Strangeways, at times, is quite inedible. The portions are miniscule and the mash and chips, which is all, so it appears, prisoners appear to get, is rather disgusting. For dessert it gets no better. “Rock cakes” are served, which really is not a desert at all, and when desserts are served, the custard is not made with milk, but with water, which proves, for the prisoners, to be grotesque. A sort of mental torture is implemented there also, and this should be shocking to many; but it is not. Because the prison has category A status it justifies what is calls using “working dogs”. These dogs are there to prevent prisoners from escaping, and sleeping, so it seems. These same dogs just happen to bark themselves into a bolivian at feeding time, the officers allow them to torment the prisoners and regularly wake them up at untimely hours. Forest Bank prison has no dogs. It is true it holds category A, B, C and D prisoners, because like Strangeways, it is a dispersal prison, but every prisoner at Strangeways are subject to category A conditions.
John Podmore, the former Governor and Chief Inspector of prisons, wrote a book about prison conditions amongst other things, called Out of Sight Out of Mind, in it he describes a plethora of shocking revelations. For example he tells us 40% of prison suicides are committed by people on remand. Now remand prisoners are mixed with convicted prisoners, and are thus treated as criminals. This appears to increase suicide rates in prisons.
Because prisons throughout England and Wales are so overpopulated, many of them have double cells, which makes a remand prisoner’s life ever more unbearable than it need be. Some of these people are subject to intense bullying, are often sexually assaulted, forcing them to perform sex acts, they mix these poor souls with people who have committed crimes so serious that they will receive nothing less than a life sentence, when they may share a cell with someone who has received a four-week sentence, perhaps less. All these things discussed in the essay do not reduce suicides in prison but evidently increase them, and this ought to be reported but seldom is.
The Secretary of State for Justice, whoever that is, offer their own brand of “reforms”, and because of these “reforms”, as their faithful enthusiasts like to call them, suicides in prison increase. Upto 20% of the prison population, at any one time, are innocent and wrongly convicted, the vast majority, suffer from mental health problems, yet they are criminalised nonetheless, and this is a society we like to call a “fair society”. More and more prisoners appear to be departing from the world of their own choosing, and it seldom reaches the mainstream media, and unless there is a social revolution, which is only a fool’s dream, policies of the present and future administrations will only continue to make prison conditions tougher, and thus contributing to lost souls taking their own lives in prisons throughout England and Wales.
January 7th, 2014
This is my first 'prison essays', there are 9 more to follow. The second prison essay will be posted on my blog soon.