Whitemoor Prison in March is 'breaching UN torture protocol' says independent body
Use of solitary confinement at Whitemoor Prison in March is in breach of a UN torture protocol according to a new report.
The high security jail's Independent Monitoring Board found the prison locks up inmates in its segregation unit for more than 23 hours a day, with "little meaningful human contact".
The board, which is made up of members of the local community, said this broke the UN's Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.
The annual report published this week presents the board's findings for June 2017 to May 2018 which come from visits, scrutiny of records and data and informal contact with staff, prisoners and their families
Introduction to the report says the prison is "generally well managed and offers prisoners an environment which is calmer and safer than that of many other establishments."
It also said the board was "pleased to note" an increasing number of improvements, but went on to say there remained "several areas of concern" - some of which were to do with national policy and outside of Whitemoor's control.
The board's role is to ensure prisoners are treated humanely and justly and to raise any concerns they might have with the Secretary of State. To enable the board to do this they have access to every prisoner and every part of the prison and its records.
They found overall prisoners at Whitemoor were generally treated fairly. But said they had "significant reservations" about them being treated humanely.
The report said: "The prison routinely fails to provide clean clothing, bedding and cleaning materials, thus breaching the most basic human decencies."
The board found the segregation unit was at or close to full throughout the reporting year and in May the five longest-term residents in Whitemoor's segregation unit had been there for between 184 and 362 days and were "not always treated fairly or humanely".
It added: "Residents had to choose between a daily shower or a phone call."
Inspectors were also concerned about the rise in the use of new psychoactive substances, such as Spice, following a ban on smoking.
The report found that two men in the segregation unit who had taken Spice "set themselves on fire", sustaining life-threatening injuries and said there have been a number of examples of prisoners debilitated by Spice on every wing.
It added: "Several prison officers have been taken to hospital suffering from secondary Spice inhalation. Urgent and effective action is needed to prevent drugs entering the prison."
The report said statistics indicate "Whitemoor remains a comparatively safe environment for prisoners and staff, with low rates of violence compared with the national average for male prisons (187 per 1000 prisoners versus 366 nationally)."
However, violence has increased by 121 per cent - seven and a half times the national rise of 16 per cent - and prisoner-on-staff violence is up by over 200 per cent.
The report says the increased use of Spice and higher numbers of younger, more volatile prisoners are contributory factors.
On a positive note the board said the prison is now "fully staffed due to a very successful recruitment drive"
It noted improvements that have led to increased focus on encouraging prisoners' links with the families, the introduction of more meaningful and highly skilled work and activities and the board was also impressed by the success of the Learning Together initiative with Cambridge University.
However, the board has written to the Minister and said: "The board have consistently highlighted segregation problems in their annual reports and have put direct questions to ministers. The board are disappointed that little has changed."
They want the minister to ensure the prison service complies with the UN's Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.