The brutal inside story of Full Sutton prison segregation unit

HMP Full Sutton

Full Sutton is one of the seven high security prisons in England and Wales. We have received this shocking account of the conditions in the prison’s segregation unit from George Black, who has spent 19 years as a Category A prisoner.

Salutations from Full Sutton segregation unit! I am writing this with a heavy heart while at the same time another prisoner has set fire to his cell and others are choking on the fumes and banging on their cell doors, trying to attract the attention of staff sitting comfortably in the office. If I wasn’t just watching them through the observation pane in my cell door, I could have forgiven them for appearing to be oblivious or deaf to ongoing events. Finally, it has taken 10 minutes for an officer to stroll down the landing and amble back to his colleague to announce there’s a fire, before either started to respond to this emergency. Fortunately nobody lost their life this time, although numerous prisoners have reported to me they are having breathing problems.

To bring you up to date with what is going on here at Full Sutton, about two and a half months ago the seg unit moved next door to F wing, while some refurbishing took place in the seg, such as fitting new in-cell smoke alarms and a new computerised cell bell system. Both of which were completely ignored last night.

During the four weeks I spent on the makeshift (F-wing) seg and the three weeks we have all been back here in the New Refurbished Seg, I have witnessed over 30 cells being smashed up, numerous dirty protests and at least 20 inmates going on ACCTS (self harm and suicide risk documents). Without accepting one iota of responsibility, the governor must be thinking that it doesn’t rain, it pours.

Some inmates in this seg have accumulated outstanding fines of £50,000, £60,000 and £80,000 [for criminal damage]. Fines they will never be able to pay and which the Prison Rules say will be quashed after two years in any case. Instead of discouraging prisoners from damaging prison property, this system actively encourages it. Furthermore what would possess the prison governor (or perhaps motivate him) to move a bunch of unruly prisoners onto a different wing with porcelain sinks and toilets, wooden furniture and shelves, lino flooring etc, that is in desperate need of refurbishment, at public expense rather than the prison budget. Or perhaps it is just politics, for the Home Office’s benefit.

Now I’m not one for complaining or pointing fingers, but it’s the governors’ fault that these things are happening! All the governors in this prison are guilty of complicity in allowing this situation to fester and continue. The return of a certain canteen culture [among officers] doesn’t occur overnight. It needs to be nurtured by bigger fish, within whose protective shadow it can grow. Prison staff are more demoralised, more disillusioned and more desensitised than they have been for a long time. (I suppose my heart wouldn’t be able to focus on doing my job properly either if I had all of these frustrations that needed venting.) However, as the governors are always quick to point out [to prisoners] there are no excuses for doing something wrong.

Full Sutton, like no other prison, employs a carrot and stick health care service. If you have a problem with prison staff, almost immediately your health care treatment will be withdrawn (the stick) on the flimsiest of excuses. This especially relates to any pain relief treatment (the carrot) or appointments to see specialists, dentist, doctor, physio etc. This is widely acknowledged by prisoners and certain prison staff, and occurs far too often to be coincidental. The lies they then manufacture to cover up this abuse would leave even Harold Shipman turning in his grave.

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) here is not much better, having sadly sunk to new depths, outliving its intended purpose. Apart from giving the ethos of the IMB service a bad name, they also leave a bad taste in prisoners’ mouths and memories because they are rotten to the core. If a prisoner reports a serious matter to the IMB, all they do is confer and conspire with a senior member of staff to provide an appropriate response. The only reason for their existence is to present a facade of humanity to conceal the real inner goings-on. They are rather like the last meal offered to prisoners on death row, ultimately pointless – they leave you with a belly ache just before you are about to be killed. When I first came to the seg, with two black eyes and swollen lips, having been accused of assaulting Mufti [riot squad] officers, I did not receive any blankets or sheets for 11 days. I repeated this to IMB members almost daily - to one member on three different occasions. I have since complained to her to confirm this in writing, and that was over four weeks ago. This is a small complaint compared to some prison issues.

Unfortunately for the prisoners here, the chaplaincy is also reluctant to intervene when they witness or are informed of something wrong. Apart from turning the other cheek, they also have a bad habit of turning a blind eye as well.

I have personal experience of being fobbed off to numerous legitimate and serious complaints by the governors, IMB, chaplaincy, health care at Full Sutton. It is no coincidence that the majority of prisoners in this seg are telling me the same stories and at the same time there are multiple daily smash-ups and self-harms.  I also have irrefutable proof to substantiate my allegations/complaints. Just the fact that the prison does not preserve CCTV evidence when asked to do so (that proves inmates’ complaints) should be enough to show what the prison is hiding, or similar acts of destroying/delaying evidence, another sign of guilt.

The prison management believes they can continue to cover up these issues by further subjugating inmates. At some point, as all this chaos, the smashing up of cells, dirty protests, acts of self-harming and complaints build up, attracting more attention, some questions will start to be asked outright of the prison by those out in the real world who abide by higher moral principles.

On 15 May 2019 there were no governors available in the establishment, so they drafted in a governor from Wakefield. Apparently all the Full Sutton governors were called away to a meeting. Could this possibly be the flicker of a spotlight starting to search for the lost forgotten souls abandoned by the legal aid reforms of 2011? Maybe their shouts will be heard.

It is no coincidence that the withdrawal of legal aid from prisoners has led to the gradual and continuous increase of violations against prisoners’ rights and most of these ungrateful prisoners smashing up government property and self-harming are part of the post-tariff IPP generation of sentenced prisoners. Some with tariffs of two and three years who have now served 12 and 14 years. Another disturbing commonality they all share is the inevitable deterioration of their mental health caused by a lack of institutional care and a lack of hope.

You can help by complaining and writing to the governor at Full Sutton. Any complaints to Peterborough MPs on my behalf would be much appreciated.

George Black A3887AE, Full Sutton prison, 16 May 2019

Write to the Full Sutton governor Gareth Sands at HMP Full Sutton, Moor Lane, York YO4 1PS or email  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Write to the newly elected Peterborough MP Lisa Forbes at Houses of Parliament, London SW1A 0AA

Send copies of any replies you get to George with your solidarity.


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