Thursday, 3 July 2014

Cell-Sharing Risk Assessments

Following on from my previous post, I thought I'd share another contribution I recently made to a Guardian online discussion about the risks of sharing a cell:

Most prisoners who are lifers or serving very long sentences tend to get single cells from the beginning (at least when they are in the high security (A-cat) dispersal prisons. Other single cells are reserved for what are considered to be high risk prisoners (particularly those with a previous history of violence against a previous cell-mate). Otherwise, it tends to be buggins turn as and when singles become available. In fact, owing to the current shortage of prison places, many single cells have already been converted to tiny doubles.

All new receptions are supposed to have what is called a "cell share risk assessment" to comply with Prison Service Instruction (PSI 09/2011), but in practice this seems to be a box ticking exercise unless the individual has a substantial history of violence against other prisoners (this qualification does not apply to prisoners who have committed violent offences outside prison). It should, however, factor in issues such as known affiliations with racist organisations or extremist groups.

I know quite a number of prisoners who have refused to share cells with others they know or suspect are violent or who have a current drug problem. It is always very risky to share with a drug user because their stash can get hidden in your property or under your locker etc, potentially leading you to get charged if it is discovered during a cell search ("a spin" as it known).

Standard Prison Bunk-Beds
In practice, most wing officers are actually very experienced, sensible people who try to avoid creating unnecessary problems by forcing unwilling prisoners to share a cell. When space is tight, my experience is that they will ask you to find someone you are willing to "pad up" with. In reality prisons just couldn't run without a degree of give and take between staff and inmates. The atmosphere really isn't as hostile as many people seem to imagine - more like "Porridge" than "Starred Up" - at least in my personal experience.

Only the most recalcitrant of prisoners refuse point blank to share a cell and they risk being charged with refusing to obey a lawful order and being up before the governor on an adjudication - which can lead to loss of wages, gym access, canteen purchases, association etc. It is also possible to end up on Basic regime (solitary confinement, little personal property etc). I've known this to happen, but it's not common.

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