Monday, December 6, 2004

UK solitary confinement

Out of sight but in our minds

UK: Segregation units are prisons within prisons - the places where the most unchecked brutality is meted out to prisoners. In recent years conditions in high security segregation units have deteriorated, and the use of long-term segregation as a control mechanism has increased.

Fight Racism Fight Imperialism (FRFI) asked some of our readers in gaol to send us their views and experiences. We welcome further contributions.

HMP Frankland

On 31 January 2005 the inquest will open into the death of Paul Day, who died in Frankland segregation unit on 2 October 2002. This inquest is expected to reveal damning details of the conditions in the seg at that time. Paul Day's family is still appealing for anyone who knows anything about events in the run-up to Paul's death to come forward.

For the two months before Paul Day died there had been repeated dirty protests by segregation unit prisoners in response to the conditions in the block. Prison staff had retaliated by contaminating the protesters' food, limiting the amount of water they were allowed and threatening them with physical violence. Yet when prisoner Keith Pringle allegedly threatened an officer in return, he was charged with a criminal offence of making threats to kill. His trial was expected to expose conditions in the segregation unit; however unfortunately Keith was persuaded that if he pleaded guilty he would not get extra time added onto his already lengthy prison term. This turned out to be a false promise and he received an additional three-year sentence.

In April 2004 Stephen Lloyd died in Frankland segregation unit. The solicitor representing his family is also appealing for witnesses. Alan Porter has been in segregation at Frankland for 14 months. He sent this contribution to FRFI:

This is about a 73-year-old man who I am unable to name because of prison security. I'm writing about humanity and respect. In every gaol you will see signs saying you will be treated with humanity and respect. At present I'm in Frankland block with this man who has been between the hospital and the block so many times he has now refused to leave the block and go back to the hospital, because he knows next time the hospital needs a space, it'll be back to the block. This may not sound so terrible but he is 73 years old and in extremely poor health after years of protest to highlight his unlawful conviction. When arrested, the police tried to kill him with an illegal shoot-to-kill policy. Then he was refused a proper trial with no legal representation; then they changed the law for his appeal.

He's spent 17 years in gaol. Much of this time has been spent on dirty protests, hunger strikes or other protests to try to have this miscarriage of justice brought to light. All the protest over the years has taken a toll on his health. He has not eaten a meal in this block and has been here since the start of October, and is now very frail. He is existing on oxo-cubes and sweet, black coffee. Although this is extremely detrimental to his health, this is a protest against the treatment he has had from the hospital here. He's in such a state of mind that he believes he has nothing left to live for and is prepared to starve to death and die in gaol as he knows he'll never be released alive.

[FRFI Recognises and salutes our old friend and comrade Ronnie Easterbrook.]

HMP Long Lartin

In February 2004 Anwar Islam was found dead in Long Lartin segregation unit. As we go to press at least one prisoner there is on a dirty protest. Long Lartin seg is infamous for holding prisoners for lengthy periods of time 'awaiting transfer'; with little or no attempt to actually transfer them to anywhere. John Shelley writes from Long Lartin:

Ten years ago, punishment blocks (as they were then known) did exactly what they said on the tin - punished prisoners. In later years this type of physical and mental punishment would be the subject of some high profile criminal trials; however and although the surface has finally been scratched, the gouge was not deep enough to blow the whole thing wide open.

A decade on and, as far as the high security estate goes, little has changed. New measures have been put in place to guard inmates against the attacks, the type of which were the subject of the Wormwood Scrubs trials, but they do not go far enough and offer little comfort to those languishing in the blocks. CCTV has been installed across most of the high security segregation units, but it seems that when attacks take place the particular camera that would have captured the scene is conveniently out of order or, worse still, switched off. Since most attacks take place in the confines of a prisoner's cell, the cameras prove absolutely useless in any case.

There is also a new image - the 'Blocks' have been given a lick of paint to cover the bloodstained walls and there is even a statement of purpose. Instead of segregation units we now have Security, Care and Control Units (SCCUs) - suggesting a more caring role. Underneath though, there is a machine that is incapable of change, where beatings, intimidation and mental torture will continue to be the order of the day.

HMP Whitemoor

Reports currently coming out of the Whitemoor segregation unit are of a climate of sustained verbal racist abuse against black prisoners.

Leroy Smith writes:

The ideology behind segregation is, I presume, to subdue people and get them to do what they are told, when they are told.. So if you are someone that thinks for yourself you will be in problems because a lot of the ways they want you to adapt do not make sense.

The people that work in segregation units in the dispersal system for the most part fit a certain criteria. They seem to be sexist, racist automatons and they all read The Sun.

HMP Full Sutton

In 1994 FRFI was involved in a campaign initiated by prisoners in Full Sutton to expose the brutal regime in the segregation unit. Ten years on Full Sutton's segregation unit still has an appalling reputation. In March 2004 Arif Hussain died there in horrific circumstances, apparently after a bag of drugs he had swallowed exploded in his stomach while he was being kept in a cell with no water, supposedly being 'observed' but according to witnesses, simply being taunted and abused for a week.

John Bowden, now at HMP Saughton, Scotland, who has served time in the segregation units of all the high security prisons in England, writes:

Prior to about 1994, serious mental and physical abuse in segregation in the long-term dispersal system was relatively rare, basically because those administering the segregation knew only too well the extent of solidarity among long-term prisoners; ill-treatment of prisoners in segregation units at Parkhurst, Gartree and Hull having provoked major uprisings.

During the late 1990s, and largely as a gradual reaction to the Strangeways revolt, a vicious screwing down of regimes took place. The brutalisation of perceived ringleaders and 'subversives' became a necessary part of the strategy. Segregation units in gaols like Long Lartin and Full Sutton were turned into brutal control units designed to actively intimidate and subdue the prisoners on every level. The destruction of solidarity and organisation among long-term prisoners generally and a change in the social and political climate beyond the walls encouraged the screws running the seg units to believe that their actions would never be questioned, challenged or avenged.

Serious brutality against prisoners is now routine in segregation in gaols like Full Sutton, Frankland and Long Lartin, and all levels of staff - screws, governors, doctors, boards of visitors etc - collude and co-operate with the sadists directly inflicting the violence. The conspiracy of silence extends from the Home Office and Prison Service to middle class prison reform organisations who accept that exceptional measures are sometimes justified when dealing with 'control problem' prisoners.

The single factor capable of stopping the brutality is of course solidarity and unity among prisoners themselves. In summer 1976 long-term prisoners at Hull rose up against the ill-treatment of one prisoner in the segregation unit. For days they demonstrated on the roof, erecting banners and displaying their solidarity to the media and world outside. They made it clear that an injury inflicted on one of them was an injury to all. That spirit of Hull must be recreated if the abuse and cruelty prevailing in many segregation units is to be stopped.

*Any reader with relevant information about this or any of the deaths concerned should contact Inquest at 89-93 Fonthill Road London N4 3JH; 020 7263 1111

By Prisoners Fightback posted 6 December 04

Prisoners Fightback FRFI 182, December 2003/January 2004. FRFI BCM Box 5909 London WC1N 3XX Related: 0207 837 1688,


NSW Greens lose bid to stop jail boss getting more power
Australia/Cuba?: The greens failed today in a bid to quash the NSW Corrective Services Commissioner's power to classify prison inmates as a "special risk" to national security?

A Death in the Box
By the time Jessica Lee Roger was discovered on the floor of her prison cell on Aug. 17, 2002, it was too late. In the 24 minutes since guards had last checked her, she had tied a bed sheet around her neck and, after many attempts over three years in prison, finally strangled herself.

NSW Prisoners' linked to Osama Bin Laden: Ten News
NSW prisoners held in a "box within a box" with "no fresh air or sunlight" at the countries terrorist jail (HRMU) or High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn Correctional Centre, (a super-max prison in NSW), are said to have followed Osama Bin Laden from their isolated cells.

Justice Denied In NSW Corrective Services
There used to be a (VJ) or Visiting Justice who would go into the prison and judge any claim or accusation that was made by any prisoner or prison guard. If it were found that a prisoner had offended then punishment was metered out.

We the prisoners at the High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn Correctional Centre would like to ask you for help in receiving equal treatment and opportunities as other prisoners throughout the system. As we are told that we are not in a segregation unit but we are treated as though we are in one.

The gates into the HRMU were blocked by over twenty five armed police. The Inspectors in charge, Greg Jago and Alan Whitten said access to the institution was being denied.

Rally for Inspection of Terror Unit, the HRMU
Letters from prisoners describe abuse which, is part of the system. Prisoners report that they are kept in isolation without cause, they are deprived of air to the point of near asphyxiation, they are kept in freezing temperatures, gassed with unknown substances, and deprived of natural light. There is medical evidence that they are self-harming due to the conditions.

Prisoner Abuse Not Just in Iraq
"The basic message of the study is that prisons are, basically, destructive environments that have to be guarded against at all times," he (Craig Haney) said. Regular training and discipline could keep prisons from degenerating into pits of abuse, but the vigilance had to be constant, with outside monitoring as well.

Conditions in the HRMU
Justice Action is trying to obtain documents on behalf of prisoners held in the Goulburn High Risk Management Unit (HRMU) from the Federal Attorney General's Department, Corrective Services Minister's Conference regarding the process described below, in which the Standard Guidelines for Corrections in Australia were adopted.

Message of Solidarity: Greens
No where is the problem more evident then in the High Risk Management Unit in Goulburn Jail. Like the "super-max" units in the United States the HRMU uses unsubstantiated claims of "risks" to justify what is often the unjustifiable - the segregation and isolation of human beings.

Doctor Ron Woodham I presume?
"Corrections Health staff provide medical care. However, its staff's authority is essentially limited to making recommendations to corrective services on treatment. Corrective services staff can then decide what treatment can be given."

Carr's Castle the real story H.R.M.U.The High Risk Management Unit Goulburn Correctional Centre. A prisoner writes, " I was unsuccessful in my letters to Dr Matthews CEO of the Corrections Health Service on my problem regarding air - claustrophobic effect the cells have on me. Just recently the management decided my injuries are not seriously affecting me so no further discussions are necessary.

NSW Terrorist Minister leads the way
New South Wales is hosting a two-day conference of state and territory prisons ministers on how to detain terrorists. John Hatzistergos and Bob Carr know all about it having the states most draconian terrorist unit already. The (HRMU) acronym Harm-U the High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn.

On the treatment of prisoners at the NSW HRMU
Prisoners sister's letter from her brother: Following our phone conversation some weeks ago I would like to set out a few points on the treatment of prisoners in the High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn (Super Max) (Guantanamo Bay).

Review of Justice Ministers claims about conditions at HRMU
There is no fresh air in our cells only Air conditioning pumped out of an 8 x 8-centimetre vent over our beds. Conditions change with filthy moods of the prison guards. Induction clothing "one set" mostly shorts and a prisoner remains there for two weeks depending whatever suits the staff. If a prisoner shuts up about the abuse, and freezing conditions (Goulburn cold in winter hot in summer taking into account you're housed in concrete) then you may go to units 8 or 9.

Watchdogs slaughtered in NSW
On Tuesday the Carr Government reduced transparency and accountability yet again and New South Wales is in danger of becoming entrenched with cronyism and intimidations with the Carr Labor Government that continues to slaughter the watchdogs.

The ruling class, capitalism and de-valuing the scholar
An example is the High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn Correctional Centre. " a box within a box" with no sunlight or fresh air. With no constructive education, hobbies or work for the prisoners. Extensive lock-downs and security rule the HRMU. Visitors have to pass a security test to gain access. Prisoners are chained and cuffed in leg-irons if they are to be moved. Prisoners are moved into a different cell every 14 days and the guards move their personal belongings.

Escape proof but not so the prisoners mind
Fewer prisoners escape from prison these days because they're "cemented in" by materials that do not break and by legislation that can keep prisoners in jail until they die.

Just lies! Powerful prisoners don't exist at the HRMU because of the security of the prison. So even when prisoners are dumped inside a concrete box that is inside a concrete box with no fresh air, no sunlight and no constructive work they are powerful? What about powerless. These prisoners are moved from their cells to another cell every 14 days and constrained with leg irons and cuffs, how are they powerful? Please explain!

Noble Cause Corruption
I am writing to you as I have been in segregation for a couple of weeks. I have had my "C1" minimum-security classification taken off me and replaced with an "A2" special management at Goulburn jail. I most definitely have not done anything to warrant such punishment.

Premier Bob Carr, Deputy Premier Andrew Refshauge, Senator Aden Ridgeway,and other community representatives have been invited to receive the message from the men of "The Hole.

High Risk Management Unit (HRMU) INSPECTION
This letter is to request permission for an independent inspection team to examine the 75-cell HRMU at Goulburn Jail. The proposed inspection team consists of specialist doctors, jurists, members of the Corrections Health Service Consumer Council and prisoners representatives.

Stopping Violence
We had a TV program in NZ some time ago where a guy pointed out that it doesn't matter how long the sentence is sooner or later they will have finished their sentence and go back into society and therefore live next door to someone!

Abuse within prisons makes prisoners more violent upon release
The Australian public was confronted with similar accusations during 1978 when the NSW Royal Commission into Prisons headed by Justice Nagle found that the NSW Department of Corrective Services and its Ministers of both political persuasions had unofficially sanctioned the systematic brutalisation of prisoners at Grafton Jail from 1943 to 1976. A former Grafton prison guard, John Pettit, testified to the extent of that brutalisation:

Our very own Alcatraz
I heard voices from the Gatehouse. The clicking of handcuff ratchets. The noise heralded the arrival of the transfer escort. I looked around my cell for the last time my home since the summer of '71, when I was transferred to Grafton as an intractable prisoner.

As an ex-Grafton intractable (1971-1975) and the only living ex-prisoner to have served the longest time inside Katingal (1975-1978) I feel qualified to offer the following personal observations:

Brett Collins: Speech to Nagle Symposium 25 years on
I was serving 17 years, was in segregation and had served five of the almost ten I eventually did. The prison movement outside had made the Royal Commission aware of the plight I was in as one of the prisoner organisers. That attention meant I was safer from that time on. Although two years later I was returned to Grafton with the classification of intractable.

Midnight Special
If you ever go to Goulburn HRMU yeah, you better walk right You'd better not breathe and sure thing better not fight.