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30 Apr 2020

Howard League responds to “devastating” Council of Europe report on prisons

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to the latest report on the United Kingdom by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture, published today (Thursday 30 April).

The report reveals findings from visits by the committee’s delegation to three prisons holding adult men (Doncaster, Liverpool, Wormwood Scrubs), two prisons holding children (Cookham Wood and Feltham) and one secure training centre holding children (Rainsbrook) in May 2019.

The delegation found that the local men’s prisons remained unsafe and overcrowded, with many prisoners enduring restricted and isolating regimes and/or long periods of segregation.

In two prisons, Liverpool and Wormwood Scrubs, the delegation found that staff had inflicted unjustified violence on prisoners. Of utmost concern was the evolution of an informal practice known as ‘preventive strikes’ – punching compliant prisoners whom staff perceived might, at some point in the future, present a threat.

In the establishments holding children, delegates found that staff had resorted to using pain-inflicting techniques on some occasions. The committee reported that these techniques should be abolished in law and practice.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture has published a devastating indictment of our prison system, with a craven and self-justifying response from the UK government which seems blithely unaware of the damage being done.

“Now that the country is in a state of emergency, we have an opportunity to start a completely different approach to the abusive practices described in the committee’s report and the complacency of the government’s response.

“A prison system in which people are beaten by staff, and where children cannot get proper food has no place in the 21st century. It shames the nation, holding it back and making us all less safe.

“During the coronavirus pandemic, saving lives must be the focus. But as we move through this period of acute crisis, we should reflect on the need to do things differently. If we want less crime and safer communities, we must use prison less.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  2. Copies of the committee’s report and the government’s response are available from the Council of Europe.


Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
Tel: +44 (0)7714 604955

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