I’ve written previously on this blog about the routine mistreatment and neglect of young prisoners, as well as the denial of legal rights to inmates who are being held on remand. Looking through my prison paperwork this weekend I discovered a copy of a letter that, as an Insider, I had helped one young remand prisoner write to the governor of a particular B-Cat prison in 2012.
|YPs held on wings in adult prisons|
I thought that readers of this blog might be interested to read this letter for themselves as it provides an insight into the reality of conditions for vulnerable young men inside adult jails. I think his mounting sense of hopelessness and despair is evident. He was increasingly tearful as he told me what he wanted to put in his letter.
I’ve removed anything that could identify either the prisoner or the specific establishment, but otherwise this letter is exactly as the lad, who also had mild learning difficulties, dictated it to me. The notes in square brackets [....] have been added by me in order to explain prison abbreviations used in the letter for readers not familiar with these terms.
Dear Mr Governor,
I am an unconvicted YP [Young Prisoner] aged 20. I’ve been at HMP ___________ for six months, since I was 19. I’m writing to you about the treatment I’ve received from officers.
It started in Reception. I have never been in prison before, so I was very scared and nervous. I asked the officer if there were many fights. He told me that I would “certainly get a good kicking” on my first night. I can identify the officer who terrified me about getting a “good kicking”, although I don’t know his name.
Also in Reception I wasn’t allowed to keep my own clothes, even though I am on remand. I was so ashamed to be made to strip in front of these officers. They kept me half naked without any trousers or underpants for a really long time. I think they did it to make fun of me. I really wanted to cry.
No-one helped or supported me on ______ wing, so I just stayed in my cell all the time for weeks. I was too frightened to go out and to associate or talk to anyone. This was because no one helped me. I didn’t even meet a personal officer.
I found out that because I am a remand prisoner I shouldn’t have to share with a convicted prisoner. But Mr ______ told me he would put me in a punishment cell unless I agreed to share a cell with a convicted YP.
I really want to continue my education while I am in prison. But I have been forced to work. Mr ______ [the same wing officer] threatened me with a red IEP [Incentives and Earned Privileges] warning if I didn’t work. I am now being made to work in the laundry, but I would like to continue my education because I was at college before my arrest.
Because I haven’t been given any support my time on remand has been very difficult. I have been forced to share a cell with two convicted prisoners who have treated me really badly.
When I asked for a Listener [a Samaritans-trained prisoner] so I can talk to someone about my problems I have been told I can’t have one because the officers said I was a YP and can’t be locked in a cell with an adult prisoner. This has happened on several occasions. I sometimes feel so desperate I just want to die.
I want you to know that there is no help for YPs at this prison. We are treated worse than adults and get bullied by some officers. Please help us Mr Governor. Thank you.
He never even received a reply.
At the moment, Lord (Toby) Harris is leading an independent review into self‐inflicted deaths of 18‐24 year olds in National Offender Management Service (NOMS) custody. The deadline for submissions has been extended until 18 August. I believe that he and his team should examine the extent to which mistreatment of the kind described above by this vulnerable young man may contribute to suicide and acts of self-harm in prisons.
Various organisations and individuals have already submitted evidence, including T2A (Transition to Adulthood) which highlights the following grim statistics: "From 2012 to July 2014, there have been 46 self-inflicted deaths of young adults aged 18-24. There have been nine so far this year (another is awaiting classification). In the past 10 years, more than 160 children and young people under the age of 24 have died in prison."
If any readers have personal accounts of their own experiences, or of incidents involving others known to them who have died in custody aged 18 to 24, then I would recommend that they contact Lord Harris’ review team with their written contributions. The e-mail address is: HarrisReview@justice.gsi.gov.uk.
Such abuses - and the tragic consequences - will doubtless continue unless what really takes place inside prisons and Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) is made public. Many of these establishments are failing in their legal duty of care and this needs to be put on the political agenda. Even then, I’m not confident that anything will change for the better, but at least we need to start to break the culture of silence that leaves some of our most vulnerable young adults feeling so desperate that they see suicide or self-harm as their only viable options.