- Created: Monday, 11 May 2009 20:08
- Written by John Bowden
Evidence has been mounting for some time that prison officers operating regimes in the segregation/ punishment units of the maximum-security dispersal prisons such as Frankland, Full Sutton and Whitemoor are systematically brutalising prisoners.
On 30 January a front-page article in The Guardian revealed that the police were investigating allegations of persistent racist assaults and abuse at Whitemoor. The Guardian quotes a ‘source with close knowledge of the investigation’ who told the paper that there was a fear of systematic abuse being meted out by ‘a hard core of rogue officers’. This is all very reminiscent of official claims made after the exposure of staff brutality at Wormwood Scrubs when a numerically tiny group of staff were blamed and prosecuted. It emerged subsequently that in fact there had been widespread collusion amongst staff at all levels at the Scrubs, including prison doctors, and the attempted cover-up had probably extended into Prison Service headquarters itself. Far from a ‘few bad apples’ being responsible for the ill-treatment and in some cases torture of prisoners at the Scrubs, the entire prison was involved in the conspiracy to weave a shroud of silence around what was being inflicted on prisoners.
The British Medical Council later said that the physical abuse of prisoners at the Scrubs could not have taken place without the collusion of doctors who turned a blind eye to what was going on and covered up for violent prison staff. The latest police investigation into Whitemoor should be seen in the context of substantially increased staff brutality throughout the dispersal system and the vicious disempowerment of long-term prisoners over the last 15 years.
The remarks of Brian Caton, General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association (POA), in response to the exposure of racist brutality at Whitemoor are almost laughable: ‘Our union has done more than any other to rid itself of racism. We have expelled members whose actions we discovered to be racially motivated. We don’t want racists in the POA.’ The truth is that the POA has always had a large number of racists and fascists in its ranks and a sizeable presence of BNP and National Front Members. It’s extremely unlikely that the POA has ever willingly expelled racist prison officers or made any serious initiative to pursue an anti-racist policy and, on the contrary, has always covered up for and vigorously defended staff accused of unlawful behaviour by prisoners seeking legal justice.
The fact is that it has always been prisoners themselves who have highlighted and challenged the unlawful behaviour of prison staff, never the POA or anyone else involved in prisons in an official capacity. It is the collusion and complicity of the POA, prison governors, doctors, chaplains and so on, that enormously empowers the racists in uniform and allows them to operate with virtual impunity. The current investigation into racist abuse at Whitemoor will be hamstrung by two formidable factors: the entrenched hostility and reluctance to co-operate by prison staff and the inevitable disinclination of an institutionally racist police force to uncover the real extent of the abuse. The prosecution of racist staff at Whitemoor is extremely unlikely and, as usual, it will be down to prisoners themselves to pursue their own legal actions and try to bring to public attention what the prison authorities have always tried desperately hard to keep hidden and unchallenged.
FRFI 190 April / May 2006