Another death in custody at Bristol’s HMP Eastwood Park

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Content warning: contains descriptions of prison violence, self-harm, and suicide

Another prisoner has died in custody at Bristol’s HMP Eastwood Park. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) confirmed to the Canary that an individual died in the prison on 10 June 2023.

This is is part of a repeated pattern of deaths in custody at the prison. HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) wrote that conditions at Eastwood Park were both “terrible” and “wholly unsuitable” in a statement in February 2023. Violence and self-harm is rife.

Remembering those who have died in Bristol prison

This latest death is at least the second to take place this year at a Bristol prison. In March 2023, Keith Gadd took his own life at HMP Bristol. Keith was serving an indeterminate sentence under imprisonment for public protection (IPP) rules. IPP prisoners have no set release date. The courts give them an initial ‘tariff’ during sentencing, but their release date is determined by a parole board. Many IPP prisoners serve a decade or more after their tariff is up.

On Sunday 9 July demonstrators gathered outside HMP Eastwood Park to mourn Taylor, another IPP prisoner. It marked one year since Taylor took his own life at the prison. According to a statement from Bristol Anarchist Black Cross, prison officers viciously assaulted Taylor just weeks before he died.

The IPP sentence has often been described as psychological torture. In fact, at least 81 IPP prisoners have died by suicide since the Labour government created the sentence in 2003. IPP sentences were abolished in 2012, but the state didn’t apply this retrospectively. Thousands of people remain in prison with no release date in site.

Staff failing prisoners

On 28 December 2022, 48-year-old Clare Dupree died in hospital. She had been admitted to hospital after a fire started in her cell. Prisoners have accused Eastwood Park of not doing enough to help her. On 9 January 2023 the Canary reported:

Under prison regulations, prison staff are supposed to be trained to use Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) in order to respond to fires inside prisons. The policy allows trained staff wearing RPE to enter a cell where a fire is taking place – if it is safe to do so – in order to remove prisoners. The prisoners’ accounts suggest that this did not take place.

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Kayleigh, another prisoner at HMP Eastwood Park, took her own life in summer 2022. Prisoners say that officers assaulted Kayleigh shortly before she committed suicide.

We contacted the MoJ about the latest death at the prison. It said that the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman would investigate it, but declined to make any comment over the circumstances.

Officers ‘use force’ to deal with self harm

It’s clear from the reports the Canary has received from prisoners over the past year, and from a scathing report from HMIP, that Eastwood Park is a deeply dangerous institution.

HMIP inspected Eastwood Park in October 2022. It found that several women were being held in bloodstained cells, that officers were not properly trained, and that they often used force to deal with prisoners self harming. Self harming was common among the prisoners, and staff’s use of force had increased by 75% since the last report. One prison inspector admitted that the conditions were the worst he had ever seen.

Deaths in custody are all too common at HMP Eastwood Park. The October 2022 HMIP report found that four people had taken their own lives at the prison since their last inspection. We know that at least two more prisoners – the latest individual, and Clare Dupree – have died at Eastwood Park since then.

Not just one rotten prison

However, it is not just one rotten prison, or a few violent officers. The death of Keith a few miles away at HMP Bristol is an example of that. The problem is the whole carceral system, which is hardwired to dehumanise and brutalise the people it imprisons.

Our communities need to defend themselves against the violence of the prison system. We need to respond to every death in prison custody with the same grief and rage as when the cops murder people on the street. We need to come together and create a movement that can put an end to the violence and brutality of imprisonment for good.

Featured image via Hédi Benyounes/Unsplash

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