Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Out of sight but in our minds

This article from the No more Prison website in 2005 was orginally published in Fight Racism Fight Imperialism

Out of sight but in our minds

Segregation units are prisons within prisons - the places where the most unchecked brutality is meted out to prisoners. In recent years conditions in high security segregation units have deteriorated, and the use of long-term segregation as a control mechanism has increased. FRFI asked some of our readers in gaol to send us their views and experiences. We welcome further contributions.


On 31 January 2005 the inquest will open into the death of Paul Day, who died in Frankland segregation unit on 2 October 2002. This inquest is expected to reveal damning details of the conditions in the seg at that time. Paul Day?s family is still appealing for anyone who knows anything about events in the run-up to Paul?s death to come forward. *

For the two months before Paul Day died there had been repeated dirty protests by segregation unit prisoners in response to the conditions in the block. Prison staff had retaliated by contaminating the protesters' food, limiting the amount of water they were allowed and threatening them with physical violence. Yet when prisoner Keith Pringle allegedly threatened an officer in return, he was charged with a criminal offence of making threats to kill. His trial was expected to expose conditions in the segregation unit; however unfortunately Keith was persuaded that if he pleaded guilty he would not get extra time added onto his already lengthy prison term. This turned out to be a false promise and he received an additional three-year sentence.

In April 2004 Stephen Lloyd died in Frankland segregation unit. The solicitor representing his family is also appealing for witnesses.

Alan Porter has been in segregation at Frankland for 14 months. He sent this contribution to FRFI:
This is about a 73-year-old man who I am unable to name because of prison security. I'm writing about humanity and respect. In every gaol you will see signs saying you will be treated with humanity and respect. At present I'm in Frankland block with this man who has been between the hospital and the block so many times he has now refused to leave the block and go back to the hospital, because he knows next time the hospital needs a space, it'll be back to the block. This may not sound so terrible but he is 73 years old and in extremely poor health after years of protest to highlight his unlawful conviction. When arrested, the police tried to kill him with an illegal shoot-to-kill policy. Then he was refused a proper trial with no legal representation; then they changed the law for his appeal.

He's spent 17 years in gaol. Much of this time has been spent on dirty protests, hunger strikes or other protests to try to have this miscarriage of justice brought to light. All the protest over the years has taken a toll on his health. He has not eaten a meal in this block and has been here since the start of October, and is now very frail. He is existing on oxo-cubes and sweet, black coffee. Although this is extremely detrimental to his health, this is a protest against the treatment he has had from the hospital here. He's in such a state of mind that he believes he has nothing left to live for and is prepared to starve to death and die in gaol as he knows he'll never be released alive.
[FRFI recognises and salutes our old friend and comrade Ronnie Easterbrook.]

Long Lartin

In February 2004 Anwar Islam was found dead in Long Lartin segregation unit. As we go to press at least one prisoner there is on a dirty protest. Long Lartin seg is infamous for holding prisoners for lengthy periods of time "awaiting transfer"; with little or no attempt to actually transfer them to anywhere. John Shelley writes from Long Lartin:
Ten years ago, punishment blocks (as they were then known) did exactly what they said on the tin - punished prisoners. In later years this type of physical and mental punishment would be the subject of some high profile criminal trials; however and although the surface has finally been scratched, the gouge was not deep enough to blow the whole thing wide open.

A decade on and, as far as the high security estate goes, little has changed. New measures have been put in place to guard inmates against the attacks, the type of which were the subject of the Wormwood Scrubs trials, but they do not go far enough and offer little comfort to those languishing in the blocks. CCTV has been installed across most of the high security segregation units, but it seems that when attacks take place the particular camera that would have captured the scene is conveniently out of order or, worse still, switched off. Since most attacks take place in the confines of a prisoner?s cell, the cameras prove absolutely useless in any case.
There is also a new image - the "Blocks" have been given a lick of paint to cover the bloodstained walls and there is even a statement of purpose. Instead of segregation units we now have Security, Care and Control Units (SCCUs) - suggesting a more caring role. Underneath though, there is a machine that is incapable of change, where beatings, intimidation and mental torture will continue to be the order of the day.

Reports currently coming out of the Whitemoor segregation unit are of a climate of sustained verbal racist abuse against black prisoners.

Leroy Smith writes:
The ideology behind segregation is, I presume, to subdue people and get them to do what they are told, when they are told. So if you are someone that thinks for yourself you will be in problems because a lot of the ways they want you to adapt do not make sense.

The people that work in segregation units in the dispersal system for the most part fit a certain criteria. They seem to be sexist, racist automatons and they all read The Sun.
Full Sutton

In 1994 FRFI was involved in a campaign initiated by prisoners in Full Sutton to expose the brutal regime in the segregation unit. Ten years on Full Sutton?s segregation unit still has an appalling reputation. In March 2004 Arif Hussain died there in horrific circumstances, apparently after a bag of drugs he had swallowed exploded in his stomach while he was being kept in a cell with no water, supposedly being ?observed? but according to witnesses, simply being taunted and abused for a week.

John Bowden, now at HMP Saughton, Scotland, who has served time in the segregation units of all the high security prisons in England, writes:
Prior to about 1994, serious mental and physical abuse in segregation in the long-term dispersal system was relatively rare, basically because those administering the segregation knew only too well the extent of solidarity among long-term prisoners; ill-treatment of prisoners in segregation units at Parkhurst, Gartree and Hull having provoked major uprisings.

During the late 1990s, and largely as a gradual reaction to the Strangeways revolt, a vicious screwing down of regimes took place. The brutalisation of perceived ringleaders and 'subversives' became a necessary part of the strategy. Segregation units in gaols like Long Lartin and Full Sutton were turned into brutal control units designed to actively intimidate and subdue the prisoners on every level. The destruction of solidarity and organisation among long-term prisoners generally and a change in the social and political climate beyond the walls encouraged the screws running the seg units to believe that their actions would never be questioned, challenged or avenged.

Serious brutality against prisoners is now routine in segregation in gaols like Full Sutton, Frankland and Long Lartin, and all levels of staff - screws, governors, doctors, boards of visitors etc - collude and co-operate with the sadists directly inflicting the violence. The conspiracy of silence extends from the Home Office and Prison Service to middle class prison reform organisations who accept that exceptional measures are sometimes justified when dealing with "control problem" prisoners.

The single factor capable of stopping the brutality is of course solidarity and unity among prisoners themselves. In summer 1976 long-term prisoners at Hull rose up against the ill-treatment of one prisoner in the segregation unit. For days they demonstrated on the roof, erecting banners and displaying their solidarity to the media and world outside. They made it clear that an injury inflicted on one of them was an injury to all. That spirit of Hull must be recreated if the abuse and cruelty prevailing in many segregation units is to be stopped.
*Any reader with relevant information about this or any of the deaths concerned should contact Inquest at 89-93 Fonthill Road London N4 3JH; 020 7263 1111

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