High Court hears how Kevan Thakrar has been kept in solitary confinement for refusing a psychiatric assessment
Content warnings: Prison violence, suicide
Kevan Thakrar has, as of 26 April, served 750 days in solitary confinement since April 2021. He has described his imprisonment as “almost impossible to survive”.
Kevan is taking a judicial review case to the High Court this week. He is challenging the conditions of his confinement imposed by the Close Supervision Centre (CSC) management committee. They are holding Kevan in a “designated cell”, and preventing him from associating with other prisoners.
HMP Belmarsh did not allow Kevan to attend the hearings. He instead watched legal arguments over a video link from the prison.
You can read our report of day one of the hearing here.
Penalised for refusing a psychiatric assessment
One of the key parts of the state’s argument for keeping Kevan in solitary confinement is that he hasn’t consented to undergo a prison-organised psychiatric assessment. Several experts have diagnosed him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), arising from his treatment in prison. Kevan’s solicitor told the court that the main cause of his PTSD was an incident with prison officers in 2010.
The Canary described the incident in our report on 25 April:
In 2010, while imprisoned at HMP Frankland, Kevan was attacked by prison officers. He fought back against the racist attack but ended up being charged himself for causing actual bodily harm to his assailants. When this new case got to court, the jury found Kevan not guilty because he had acted in self-defence. However, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) ignored the court’s verdict and has kept Kevan in the CSC ever since.
The CSC is a prison punishment regime designed to control prisoners that the MOJ considers the “most dangerous”. This control is achieved through extreme isolation. The CSC system is inflicted on a relatively small number of prisoners, 58 in total.
The British state uses the CSC system to impose isolation on a disproportionate number of Black and Muslim prisoners. In fact, the Guardian reported in 2015 that almost half of the prisoners within the CSC are Muslims.
Prison service demanding an assessment on their terms
The prison service is demanding that Kevan undergoes an evaluation, even though he has already undergone several similar processes.
Sam Grodzinski, representing the secretary of state, quoted prison documents stating that Kevan’s placement in the CSC cannot be “progressed” if he doesn’t “engage”. He told the High Court that Kevan has been asked to comply with an assessment by a prison-employed forensic psychologist, but that the request has been refused.
Kevan and his lawyers say that attending the assessment on the prison’s terms will re-trigger his PTSD, and negatively affect his mental health. The court has heard that Kevan has suffered from suicidal ideation because of his continued isolation.
Kevan has made clear that he is happy to undergo the assessment, with the psychologist the prison has recommended. However, he has asked that the psychologist sign an undertaking that the assessment will take place in a private visiting room, that he can take breaks when he needs to, and that he won’t be interrupted by officers.
Psychiatric work needs a ‘therapeutic environment‘
Kevan wrote, in a statement to the court:
Psychological work needs to be undertaken in an open, safe and therapeutic environment. I have worked with about 30 [prison service] psychologists over the years but as soon as a relationship develops that I begin to trust they move on. I now face a constant parade of psychologists who have recently become involved; who have read little if anything about me; and who often do not know why they are meeting me. There is little point in my engaging with them, still less in security conditions which means the work will be ineffective as well as triggering for me
Kevan recently won a civil case against the Ministry of Justice. It had failed to prevent racist attacks and harassment against him by other CSC prisoners. He argued that it is not fair to ask him to undergo psychiatric assessments in this unsafe setting. According to Kevan’s statement:
I need to do that work in a place that is therapeutic and not re–triggering of my PTSD. There is no point in putting me in a unit with people who subject me to racist threats and attacks; I cannot work there.
Grodzinski argued that Kevan often refused to engage with prison staff, and that this:
is not the position of a person who is craving human contact.
But Nick Armstrong, representing Kevan, made clear to the court that it is Kevan’s treatment at the hands of prison staff that caused his PTSD in the first place. It is therefore no surprise that Kevan doesn’t want to “engage” with them.
Minimising the effects of solitary confinement
The CSC Management Committee has regularly reviewed Kevan’s placement in the CSC since 2010. In his legal argument, Grodzinski listed things that Kevan is reported to have said since 2010 as a reason for the continued need for isolation. These included comments that Kevan had made on the phone to one of his friends, as well as comments an officer reportedly overheard Kevan say to another prisoner. Crucially, Kevan has not been accused of any violence at all since entering the CSC. So, the justifications given for Kevan’s continued isolation are about things he has reportedly said, and his alleged refusal to ‘engage’ with staff.
Grodzinski stated that Kevan’s conditions in solitary confinement were not as harsh as those imposed on prisoners in other countries. He even made the point that Kevan’s situation was not as bad as that of that of , the co-founder of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). The 24-year isolation of has been widely condemned internationally.
Grodzinski argued that Kevan is allowed phone calls with his friends and family. But Armstrong, representing Kevan, pointed out that these calls are limited to ten minutes by the prison service, and Kevan has to wait a further ten minutes before he can make another call.
‘Cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment’
Armstrong pointed out that Nils Melzer, the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on torture, and Leigh Toomey, the UN chair-rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, registered concern over Kevan’s situation. Melzer and Toomey said in March 2021:
we express our grave concern at the indefinite and prolonged detention of Mr. Thakrar in what appears to be conditions of solitary confinement. Both in this individual case and in terms of general policy, we are particularly concerned at the reported use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement in Close Supervision Centers, thus predictably inflicting severe pain or suffering amounting to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, or even torture.
Kevan’s situation has not improved since Melzer and Toomey’s statement. In fact it has got worse. In April 2021 prison authorities subjected Kevan to even more extreme isolation, by isolating him in a “designated cell”, and restricting him from associating with other prisoners.
A voice for other prisoners
Demonstrators rallied outside the High Court on 26 April in support of Kevan. They pointed out that Kevan’s voice has been integral in critiquing the UK prison system, along with the violent, racist regime of solitary confinement in its CSCs. One speaker pointed out that Kevan is struggling “both for himself, and for other prisoners too”.
Kevan’s lawyer has said that the CSC:
is one of the dark places where the spotlight is not shone very often.
However, if it wasn’t for Kevan’s dedicated struggle, that spotlight wouldn’t be shone at all. He is carrying on his fight despite being subjected to extreme conditions of isolation. He deserves our attention and our solidarity.
The lawyer for the secretary of state finished his legal arguments this afternoon. The High Court judge, Mrs Justice McGowan, has adjourned the proceeding, in order to prepare a judgement.
Featured image is of Kevan Thakrar and his mother Jean, courtesy of the Justice for Kevan campaign
- Read the UN special rapporteur’s letter of concern to the UK government about the detention of Kevan Thakrar in the CSC system.
- Check out Kevan Thakrar’s scathing critique of the CSC ‘experiment’ in Inside Times.
- Read about the grassroots campaign against ‘joint enterprise’ laws.
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