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Frances Crook's blog · 5 Dec 2017

Another weekend, another prison disturbance

Frances Crook

There was yet another prison disturbance at the weekend. Men in Swaleside prison, a Kent jail intended to be a training establishment, took over a wing for a short time on Sunday and the prison riot squad was called in to sort it out.

There have been outbreaks of disorder in prisons across the country over the past year, often at weekends.

The prison population comprises almost entirely adult men, with 81,000 men and 4,000 women and around 900 children (almost all boys).

The cuts to prison staff and consequent restrictions on regime have mainly affected the men.

The disturbances happen on weekends because that is when the regime is so Spartan that nothing, but nothing, happens

The smaller women’s prisons have not suffered as badly, although the closure of Holloway and shunting of women round the country was destabilising and distressing.

The disturbances happen on weekends because that is when the regime is so Spartan that nothing, but nothing, happens.

Men are locked up mid-morning on Friday until Monday morning. They are contained in smelly, small, poorly ventilated cells the size of a toilet cubicle with an open toilet.

They have to urinate and defecate in the toilet next to their bed with their cell mate within inches of them.

They are given a ‘breakfast pack’ the preceding afternoon comprising a very small carton of milk, some cereal and a tea bag.

Men have been cooped up for two days with no exercise, activity or fresh air

They are handed lunch which is a white baguette with some flaccid cheese or ham to eat in the cell and dinner at 5pm will be a small hot meal, again eaten in cell.

They are cramped, hungry, resentful and explosive.

For the few minutes prisoners are allowed out of the cell they rush to shower, ask for advice on their many problems and, most importantly, call their children and partners from the payphone on the landing.

At weekends staffing levels are at a minimum and men have been cooped up for two days with no exercise, activity or fresh air. As one prison officer told me “they come out fighting”. So, Sunday riots are hardly a surprise.

The new(ish) secretary of state is about to make his first major speech about prisons in a week or two. I hope he has some bright ideas and is committed to sorting this out.

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