Howard League blog · 13 Aug 2020
The heatwave has been trying for all of us, but it has been unbearable for people in prison
The prison estate went into lockdown more than 140 days ago. For almost all of that time, most people in prison have been confined to their cells for more than 22 hours a day – often longer.
The restrictions are starting to ease in some prisons but very slowly, and many children and young adults calling our legal advice line are still spending most of their time in their cells in conditions that anyone would find hard to tolerate. We have published briefings on the conditions during lockdown for children and young adults.
At the same time, some of the few positive features of the lockdown are starting to melt away. The additional phone credit that was given out to some prisoners to cope with the lack of visits and activities is starting to reduce in some prisons. The halt on judges awarding additional days for breaches of the prison rules has come to an end as virtual hearings have been introduced.
And on top of this, most prisons are simply not geared up for dealing with the heat. One young person told our lawyers that he was “boiling”, stuck in his cell 22 hours a day with no open windows. Most prison cells have tiny air vents which means people are in a virtually sealed box the size of a car – with a toilet inside. Prison issue clothes, mainly jogging bottoms and trousers, are not made for this weather. One young adult told our lawyers today that all he can do to keep cool is to soak a cloth from the sink.
Men, women and children in prisons have been subjected to months of solitary and inactivity. In the last few days this has been compounded by being subjected to appalling heat.
The heatwave has been trying for all of us, but it has been unbearable for prisoners.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Governors used to have discretion and autonomy to make decisions about how to run their prisons. I remember a governor of Holloway prison during a heatwave who got the women out of their cells and able to sit under the trees – with the staff who of course also have to put up with unpleasant conditions in prisons. He also bought fans for the cells for night time.
Men, women and children in prisons have been subjected to months of solitary and inactivity. In the last few days this has been compounded by being subjected to appalling heat. And national prison leadership has done nothing about it.