‘Perpetual crisis’ in young offender institution

Aylesbury Young Offender Institution (YOI) has been placed in special measures following an internal review into the use of segregation at the prison. Prisoners were found to have been locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day, with some kept in the segregation unit for three months at a time. Benjamin White reports.

Aylesbury YOI houses 440 young men and is the prison where 18-21 year olds serving the longest sentences are sent, with one in 12 serving life imprisonment. At the time of the 2017 Prisons Inspectorate report, 62% of prisoners at Aylesbury were black or minority ethnic (compared to 26% of prisoners across the system and 13% of the British population). The Inspectorate report further suggests that this group of prisoners is disproportionately targeted for use of force by staff and has less access to medical care than white prisoners.

The Ministry of Justice announcement that the prison would be subject to special measures followed the upholding of a series of complaints by the Prison and Probation Ombudsman. Aylesbury YOI has been described by the Howard League for Penal Reform, which runs a legal advice line for prisoners under the age of 21, as being ‘in a perpetual state of crisis’. The Howard League told The Guardian that it had been inundated with calls from prisoners ‘feeling bored, frustrated and sometimes even suicidal’. Of almost 200 confidential phone calls received over the past 12 months, around a third related to segregation.

Prisoners are often unaware how long their isolation will last for, made to eat meals alone in their cells, and limited in the amount of telephone contact they have with their families and loved ones. In April 2018, prisoners in one wing reportedly smashed cameras and fire alarms in protest at being forced to go days on end without taking a shower.

In January 2019 the prison’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) reported that:

  • ‘A prisoner can spend up to three months in the Segregation Unit awaiting transfer to another prison...’
  • ‘...there was no centrally organised facility for moving prisoners who are no longer safe in one prison to another where they can have a fresh start. Instead, it is up to staff to negotiate (and too often plead) with other establishments...’
  • ‘Once a transfer has been agreed, there is often a further delay before transport actually happens. The transport provider, Geo Amey, was charged with the transfer of prisoners from the Segregation Unit; they postponed arrangements on too many occasions. In a number of cases, the prison, in the interest of decency, had to make its own (expensive) arrangements to transfer a prisoner to his new establishment.’

The Prisons Inspectorate has an expectation that prisoners should be unlocked for a minimum of ten hours a day. In reality though, across England and Wales, 38% of prisoners in YOIs spend less than two hours per day outside their cells. This dire state of incarceration is mirrored in the Aylesbury institute where, during the ‘working day’, up to 42% of prisoners can be found locked inside their cells deprived of external contact. No prisoner should have to suffer the misery and potential trauma of extended solitary confinement and its routine use on these young men is barbaric.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 269 April/May 2019


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