UK prisoners are stuck in solitary confinement in extreme heat as UK temperatures reach 37°C

Cell door open at HMP Shepton Mallet
Eliza Egret

While parts of the UK basked in 37°C sun on 31 July, prisoners were stuck in inhumane, overheated conditions without ventilation.

As the Independent reported, since the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic began, prisoners have been “effectively held in solitary confinement” and some only leave their cells for half an hour each day. These measures have been in place for almost four months, and there currently appears to be no plan to ease them.

Campaign groups Prisoner Solidarity Network and bluebaglife say that:

People held in several prisons including HMP Coldingley, HMP Frankland, HMP Highdown and others, have reported feeling ill and being unable to sleep as they are locked up in cells with poor ventilation and no fans for up to 24 hours per day.

They continue:

families and friends say they’re extremely worried about the impact of excessive temperatures on the physical and mental health of their loved ones.

Windows that barely open

Prisoners and their partners have reported that cells either have a window that opens just two inches, or that they have a window that doesn’t open at all.

Elliot Murawski, who was formerly imprisoned, described their cell as “ridiculously hot” in the summer. They said:

My windows were the type that didn’t open, we just had small vents. It was unbearable. I had a clock sent in that showed the temperature – it was 37 degrees. The only thing I could do to cope with the heat was lay with a wet towel over my body. I barely slept for weeks.

Meanwhile, a partner of a prisoner – who has since been released – said that:

The cell he spends 23 hours a day in has a window that only opens about 2 inches at the most. He hasn’t been able to sleep and says the heat and lack of air is unbearable.

Fears for prisoners’ health

Families and friends are, of course, terrified that the people they love might catch coronavirus while imprisoned. So far, 23 prisoners have reportedly died of the virus. Families also fear that those imprisoned won’t receive adequate healthcare if they fall ill due to the high temperatures. Prisoner Solidarity Network and bluebaglife said:

In 2018, the Care Quality Commission found that prisoners had died due to prison staff failing to respond properly to medical emergencies. A more recent report from the Nuffield Trust found that prisoners miss 40% of hospital appointments and that prisoners had been admitted to hospital with life-threatening conditions caused by lack of treatment for diabetes. In summer 2017, Rafal Sochacki died after being left in a hot court cell; the temperature in the cell was estimated to be 34 – 40 degrees celsius.

Before being locked in an overheated cell, Sochacki had spent hours in a custody van run by the notorious company Serco. When he arrived at court, he was already sweating. He was then left in the cell for many more hours without air conditioning.

No lessons learned

As personal accounts coming from prisoners show, little appears to have changed since Sochacki’s death. The Ministry of Justice said that: “Lessons have been learnt from this tragic incident”. But it’s all too clear that the government has taken few, if any, steps to protect those imprisoned.

Prisoner Solidarity Network and bluebaglife are calling on people to urgently contact the secretary of state for justice Robert Buckland. They argue that at the very least, prisoners must be provided with a fan and enough drinking water. And if this isn’t possible, they say that “people must be released from prison to a safe place in the community”.

We must all take action to stand up for prisoners’ safety. If we pressure the government enough, we might just prevent further “shocking and preventable” deaths like Rafal Sochacki’s.

Featured image via Rodw / Wikimedia Commons

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