On Nelson Mandela International Day – the second since the UN agreed the revised set of Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Nelson Mandela Rules – Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, explains how HMI Prisons has incorporated the Rules into their latest edition of Expectations, which sets out the detailed criteria used to inspect prisons and other custodial establishments.
It has been a busy time for HM Inspectorate of Prisons. On 10 July, we published our fifth edition of Expectations, the criteria against which HMI Prisons inspects prisons for men. This edition aims to bring Expectations up to date so that we can continue to fulfil our responsibility to deliver independent and objective assessments of outcomes for prisoners. This focus is in accordance with the UK’s responsibilities as signatory to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
Our Expectations have always referenced relevant human rights standards, and this year we have put renewed effort into making sure that our process for doing this is robust. This was a useful opportunity for us to incorporate the new Nelson Mandela Rules into our thinking. Our new Expectations are now published with references and commentary on relevant human rights standards, and a comprehensive scoping document is available for those with particular interest in the standards we applied.
Our new Expectations seek to ensure that all practices in prisons – particularly any restrictions imposed on them – are proportionate, lawful, accountable, necessary and non-discriminatory.
In particular, our new Expectations seek to ensure that all practices in prisons – particularly any restrictions imposed on them – are proportionate, lawful, accountable, necessary and non-discriminatory. We will use these new Expectations on our inspections of men’s prisons from September 2017. I sincerely hope that the new Expectations will support establishments in their efforts to improve outcomes for prisoners.
On Tuesday 18 July, my second annual report was published and laid in parliament, covering the period of inspection reports published from 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017. The Ministry of Justice’s own data from that period makes for stark reading. In the 12 months to December 2016, there were more than 26,000 assaults in prisons across England and Wales, an increase of 27 per cent. During the same period, assaults on staff rose by 38 per cent to 6,844 incidents. Of these assaults on staff, 789 were serious, an increase of 26 per cent. Tragically, the number of self-inflicted deaths in prisons in England and Wales has more than doubled since 2013 and in the 12 months to March 2017, 113 prisoners took their own lives.
These figures tell their own story, but what they mean, quite simply, is this: prison reform will not succeed unless the violence and prevalence of drugs in jail are addressed and prisoners are unlocked for more of the working day.
Why have so many of our jails become unsafe? The prevalence of drugs inside prisons and the seeming inability to keep them out has been a major factor. Debt, bullying and self-segregation by prisoners looking to escape the violence generated by the drugs trade are commonplace. This has all been compounded by staffing levels in many jails that are simply too low to keep order and run a decent regime that allows prisoners to be let out of their cells for training and education and have access to basic facilities.
On a day-to-day basis, I have often been appalled by the conditions in which we hold many prisoners. Far too often I have seen men sharing a cell in which they are locked up for as much as 23 hours a day, in which they are required to eat all their meals, and in which there is an unscreened lavatory. On several occasions prisoners have pointed out insect and vermin infestations to me. In many prisons I have seen shower and lavatory facilities that are filthy and dilapidated, but with no credible or affordable plans for refurbishment. I have seen many prisoners who are obviously under the influence of drugs.
Prison reform will not succeed unless the violence and prevalence of drugs in jail are addressed and prisoners are unlocked for more of the working day.
I am frequently shown evidence of repeated self-harm, and in every prison I find far too many prisoners suffering from varying degrees of learning disability or mental impairment. I have personally witnessed violence between prisoners, and seen both the physical and psychologically traumatic impact that serious violence has had on staff. My experience is no substitute for the broader evidence-based findings, but if I have experienced this, what must be the impact on the prisoners and staff who endure these things every day of their lives?
Overall, this year has been marked by an unprecedented political and public focus on the need to improve conditions in our prisons. In February 2017, the Prisons and Courts Bill was introduced into Parliament, but was lost when the General Election was called. Among other important measures, this Bill would have put HMI Prisons’ OPCAT role into legislation, which I see as crucial to strengthening and clarifying our remit.
I am concerned by the fact that this year we found – for the first time – that the number of recommendations that had been fully achieved was lower than the number not achieved. In many cases the response to previous recommendations has been unforgivably poor. We found across the entirety of our inspections that 42 per cent of recommendations on safety from previous inspections had not been achieved. Safety is the basis upon which any other constructive activity in a prison is dependent. Reform is overdue.
The Nelson Mandela Rules have focused attention around the world on the minimum standards that should apply in prisons. HMI Prisons’ inspections show that there is no room for complacency about the situation in our prisons. Over the next year we will continue to raise our voice where we find treatment of prisoners or conditions in prisons that do not meet the standards we have set.
Find out more about the Nelson Mandela Rules and read PRI’s short guide to the Rules.