Today bluebaglife and the Prisoner Solidarity Network are calling on members of the public to contact the Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland and ask him to urgently address extreme heat in prison cells as temperatures outside exceed 30 degrees celcius (scroll down for a template letter). People held in several prisons including HMP Coldingley, HMP Frankland, HMP Highdown and others, have reported feeling ill and being unable to sleep as they are locked up in cells with poor ventilation and no fans for up to 24 hours per day.
With the vast majority of prisoners now held in solitary confinement (locked in their cells for between 22 to 24 hours per day) due to coronavirus restrictions, families and friends say they’re extremely worried about the impact of excessive temperatures on the physical and mental health of their loved ones.
The partner of a prisoner (who has recently been released) said, “The cell he spends 23 hours a day in has a window that only opens about 2 inches at the most. He hasn't been able to sleep and says the heat and lack of air is unbearable.”
Member of bluebaglife and formerly imprisoned person Elliot Murawski said, “Prison cells in the summer are ridiculously hot. I remember one cell on the top floor specifically. They’d left the heating on until the end of May and the hot weather had started. My windows were the type that didn’t open, we just had small vents. It was unbearable. I had a clock sent in that showed the temperature - it was 37 degrees. The only thing I could do to cope with the heat was lay with a wet towel over my body. I barely slept for weeks.”
Family members are also worried that prisoners who become ill due to high temperatures may not get the healthcare they need. In 2018, the Care Quality Commission found that prisoners had died due to prison staff failing to respond properly to medical emergencies. A more recent report from the Nuffield Trust found that prisoners miss 40% of hospital appointments and that prisoners had been admitted to hospital with life-threatening conditions caused by lack of treatment for diabetes. In summer 2017, Rafal Sochacki died after being left in a hot court cell; the temperature in the cell was estimated to be 34 - 40 degrees celsius.
A spokesperson for the Prisoner Solidarity Network said, “The issue of unsafe temperatures in prison cells is raised every summer by people inside prisons and by their partners and families. It is inhumane to hold people in these conditions and should be addressed with urgency by the Ministry of Justice. If it is not possible to maintain safe temperatures within prisons then people need to be released to safe places. At the very least, as an interim measure all prisoners should be in a cell with adequate ventilation and have access to a fan, as well as plenty of drinking water. We know from many sources across the prison estate that this is not currently the case.”
For further information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Template letter to contact Robert Buckland to demand action on these inhumane conditions
You can use this contact form to contact Robert Buckland.
Dear Secretary of State,
I am appalled to hear about the extreme temperatures prisoners across the country are experiencing over the summer. People in over twenty prisons have reported feeling ill and being unable to sleep due to being held in cells with poor ventilation, no fans and in some cases no running water. This is having a significant impact on the physical and mental health of imprisoned people.
People in prison have consistently raised the issue of extreme temperatures in cells with prison governors and the Ministry of Justice for several years. These conditions are inhumane and dangerous. As you’re aware, the majority of prisons are now holding people in solitary confinement (in cells for 22 - 24 hours per day) due to coronavirus restrictions. This, alongside the ongoing suspension of visits in most prisons, is already extremely distressing for people held in prisons and their loved ones. The combination of very high temperatures and solitary confinement is unbearable. No one should be subjected to these conditions.
I’m writing to ask that the Ministry of Justice addresses this issue urgently. If it is not possible to provide adequate ventilation, safe temperatures and plenty of water in prison, then people must be released from prison to a safe place in the community. At the very least, the Ministry of Justice should ensure that all prisoners are able to access a fan and plenty of drinking water, immediately.