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UK: Prison Reform Trust, ‘Deep Custody: Segregation Units and Close Supervision Units in England and Wales’

1st October 2015

Dr Sharon Shalev and KImmett Edgar, in collaboration with the Prison Reform Trust UK have released a report on the conditions prevalent to segregation and close supervision units in England and Wales.

The report examines segregation in England and Wales with a specific focus on decision to segregate; culture in the units; conditions in the units and mental health. A number of recommendations are also included within the report. Segregation units in England and Wales were found to be characterised by social isolation, inactivity and increased control of prisoners.

The majority of prisoners in segregation units had good relationships with staff.  89% stated that they got on well with some staff. 57% of the prisoners in segregation units reported staff to be supportive.

Segregation has adverse effects on mental health. Some of the potential symptoms which may arise as a result of solitary confinement in this report are: anxiety, depression, anger, difficulty in concentration, insomnia, and an increased risk of self-harm. Over half of prisoners interviewed reported three or more of these symptoms. Over two thirds of the prison staff in segregation units stated that most prisoners there had mental health issues. Almost half of the interviewed officers stated that they would benefit from increased training in relation to mental health. Regimes were found to be highly lacking. Prisoners were stated as having to choose between exercise and hygiene. Exercise periods were found often to be far short of the international standards mandated by the Mandela Rules, usually lasting only 20-30 minutes. 38% of interviewed prisoners had engineered their own restricted regime. This was done as a means to be moved from their current prison for a number of reasons, including escaping form violence, drugs or debt.

Two thirds of interviewed prisoners did not find the independent monitoring board to be helpful to them, with only nine out of the sixty seven prisoners interviewed finding the board helpful. Health screens often did not fulfill their purposes, with ‘tickboxing’ was found to be prevalent.

Half of those in close supervision centres did not know why they were selected for close supervision. A majority did not know how to progress and felt that opportunities to show risk reduction were limited. The prisoners also saw no evidence of progress, reducing legitimacy of the system to them.

The report lists a number of key recommendations:

  • Reintegration and exiting segregation should be primary goals of the units;
  • Where a prisoner engineers their own segregation, prison staff should investigate why and resolve the issue;
  •   Days in segregation should be active and constructive, with international standards on exercise being followed;
  • Segregation officers should attempt to build relationships with segregated prisoners. Reflective practice should be adopted to discover better approaches where interactions did not go as planned;
  • Mental health impacts of segregation should be reduced by, giving prisoners something to do, increasing personal contact and reducing time in segregation;
  • Staff must all be trained in international human rights standards;
  • Prisoners under close supervision must be made aware of the actions needed to progress and why they are under supervision. Structured programs of progression are necessary.

To read the full report click here

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