The torch of truth that 2020 has allowed to shine brighter than ever before is now turning to the dark and hidden corners of the prison system. Despite the decades-long campaigns of many organisations and countless exposé documentaries, America’s criminal justice system has now finally been pushed to the forefront of the global conversation on racism.
COVID-19 in European prisons: Tracking preparedness, prevention and control compares work being done to prevent, contain and tackle coronavirus in prisons across nine European jurisdictions, including the three UK ones.
It shows that between March and June 2020, the first three months of the pandemic, there were 81 deaths in prisons. That's an increase of 29 per cent on the previous three months. We should be careful, however, about reading trends from data for just one quarter, as figures can be volatile over such short periods and experience seasonal fluctuations.
The Chief Inspector describes conditions as "appalling", "intolerable", "squalid", rife with "vermin and filth". Conditions like these, "should not feature in 21st century jails". This conclusion was expressed prior to the further impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thousands go to prison each year for a mere few weeks.
Until last year's General Election, reform of so-called short prison sentences was very much on the cards. The then Justice Secretary, David Gauke, argued that they were wasteful, ineffective, and the cause of chaos in the prison estate.
The Centre's research analyst, Matt Ford, draws out some conclusions from the module of our coronavirus in prisons in Europe survey which assessed different official policy responses for managing the disease in custodial settings.
“We are witnessing”, she wrote, “the decriminalisation of rape. In some cases, we are enabling persistent predatory sex offenders to go on to reoffend in the knowledge that they are highly unlikely to be held to account”.
A sentence of fifty months carries an even harsher repercussion: namely, potential unemployment for life.
That’s a little disproportionate, surely?
Minutes later he was dead. Gareth was a 4’ 10’’ mixed race 15 year old who was restrained to death by three prison officers in 2004 in Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre, privately run by G4S. Gareth was killed through the use of the Orwellian-sounding ‘seated double embrace’, a manoeuvre in which the victim is essentially folded in half while sitting down, head thrust between legs, while a grip is maintained on the back of the neck and the arms are pinioned.
In 1999 the Macpherson report on the police response to the murder of Stephen Lawrence defined institutional racism as:
Matt Ford looks at the dynamics behind the sharp fall in the prison population.