Human rights in prison: What would the highest standards look like?

Zoe Ellis
Tuesday, 8 July 2014

On 27 June the Centre held an event at HMP Grendon to discuss the conditions in prisons across the UK and Europe, and what can be done to improve them. 

The event was organised by the Centre as part of the European Prison Observatory (EPO) project.  We are one of eight partners in a European Union-funded project investigating and comparing prison conditions, sharing better practice and respect for human rights in prisons management across the European Union. Other participating countries are France, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal and Spain.

These countries are following the same project outlines and holding similar events. The feedback gained from each of these events will be collated and fed into a pan-European guidance document on better prison management practice.

We were delighted by the wide range of practitioners, voluntary sector workers, academics and Grendon residents that joined us on the day to take part in the workshops.

It was daunting at first to try and compress a range of complex issues into one day, but the discussions that came about where lively, passionate, and geared towards positive change. Residents and practitioners alike showcased many positive initiatives within prisons that they believed would be beneficial if introduced more widely within the UK and across Europe.

The workshop groups tackled the following areas:

• Dealing with abuse, mental health and self-harm
• Activities, work, and education in prison
• Resolving disputes, and security and use of force

There were many strong voices in the room that day; all working hard to tackle the many complicated and often overwhelming issues that are now elemental to the prison systems and the criminal justice system as a whole.

Not everybody agreed on the issues raised and the alternatives suggested, and this was refreshing. This was not a room of people idly dreaming up a utopian society, but who are aware of the fundamental problems that we are facing with the criminal justice system - and are realistic about making progress towards something safer, fairer, and more effective in its aims.

We are grateful to the staff at HMP Grendon who made sure everything went smoothly on the day, and to the catering team who provided us all with a fantastic meal.

We have been collating and writing up the feedback from the day and will shortly be circulating them for comment to everyone who attended. This feedback will then be presented at a national workshop to present and discuss the collected materials and the comparison results with local and national prison ombudsmen, monitoring bodies and other relevant institutions.