Psychological torture in Wakefield CSC

I am a regular visitor to the Close Supervision Centre (CSC) unit at HMP Wakefield and have witnessed first hand the conditions there. I found the first visit extremely disturbing – so much so that the impact of sadness still lingers within me. It is heartbreaking to see a loved one in these conditions and in my opinion prisoners in this unit are psychologically maltreated through lack of care and treatment.

The system claims this unit is for dangerous, disturbed and disruptive prisoners who allegedly have a range of complex and diverse psychological, psychiatric or security needs, but some prisoners do not fit the criteria and it has been proven in the past that the Prison Service has breached its own guidelines in referring prisoners to the CSC.

The CSC Unit is supposed to offer such prisoners the opportunity to address their psychological and mental health needs, disruptive and anti-social behaviour and offending behaviour, so they can be returned to ordinary prison location. The Prison Service website says:

‘Wakefield houses a Close Supervision Centre (CSC) a small therapeutic centre aiming to provide a supportive, safe, structured and consistent environment for some of the most challenging prisoners. F Wing holds refractory prisoners and there is facility for up to 8 Close Supervision Centre prisoners. The CSC unit offers exceptional levels of regime for the prisoners housed there. Visits, gym and education can all be undertaken on the unit.’ [Emphasis added]

In my view this unit is certainly not primarily dedicated to treating prisoners in order for them to return to ordinary prison location. How is this achieved when they are locked up nearly 23 hours a day in solitary confinement and the staff have no specialised training? In fact it seems that once a prisoner is allocated to this unit they are highly unlikely to be returned to the mainstream prison population.

One can only describe this unit as a warehouse, a numbered, boxed and forgotten-about system. Prisoners are not allowed to interact with each other and there is a strict regime to keep them isolated from one another. This must have an impact on their social skills, which eventually leads to other problems such as depression. So if a prisoner hasn’t been admitted into the unit for psychological problems, it is guaranteed he will eventually have them. Prisoners in this unit can become institutionalised within a short space of time, so much so that they lose the will to engage with anyone or anything.

The prisoners are caged up like wild monsters. The exercise yard consists of four small caged pens. They are able to see daylight but have no direct view of the sun or the moon. These pens are basic, very dull and gloomy looking, without any outdoor facilities, like a football etc. A dog in a dog’s home has better surroundings and accommodation. There is a small gym; however, this too is in a cage with very limited equipment. All forms of activity are undertaken in total isolation by one prisoner at a time.

take place behind bars.  Imagine two cells next to each other, the dividing wall between has a small hatch; bars have been placed in the hatch. Prisoners aren’t allowed to have physical contact with their visitors. Prison officers are present throughout, sitting next to the visitors, listening to every word that is said, even though the visits are being monitored via cameras.  I presumed that visits were a time for the prisoner to interact with family, friends and loved ones to create an informal atmosphere, allowing the prisoner to gain a sense of normality thus allowing him to maintain stability within himself.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers inspected HMP Wakefield in December 2008 and recommended that:

  • ‘F Wing should be designated as unfit for purpose and taken out of use as soon as feasible.’
  • ‘The close supervision centre should be located in a less austere environment, better suited to long-term stays and separate from the segregation unit.
  • ‘Mental health services in the close supervision centre should be increased to meet the need.
  • Visits in the close supervision centre should be open contact visits unless a specific risk assessment deems it unsafe.
  • ‘Prisoners in the close supervision centre should be managed with a view to progression and the feasibility of de-institutionalisation work should be explored with all prisoners.
  • ‘There should be more meaningful activity available in the close supervision centre.
  • ‘All staff in the close supervision centre should be specially selected for their therapeutic skills and staff should not normally work in a close supervision centre environment for more than two years or so.
  • ‘Designated close supervision centre cells in the segregation unit should not be used for long periods and prisoners held there should have access to activities, including physical education and education, on the same basis as prisoners housed in the close supervision centre unit.’

Anne Owers’ report provides damning evidence that prisoners in this CSC Unit are subjected to inhumane and degrading conditions. This is most certainly in violation of their human rights and verges on psychological torture, which has been described as ‘an attempt to destroy the subject’s normal self-image by removing them from any kind of control over their environment, creating a state of learned helplessness, psychological regression and depersonalisation’.

Concerned visitor

FRFI 215 June/ July 2010


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