Friday, July 17, 2009

Double bunking is murder

The government is currently planning to use double-bunking as a "solution" to the crisis in prison numbers bought on by their failed "tough on crime" policies. Greg Newbold has warned that this will lead to rapes, bullying and violence. He'd know - he spent time in prison in the 70's before becoming a criminologist. But that's not the half of it. As this piece in the Guardian points out, double-bunking is a recipe for murder:

In September 2003, Anthony Hesketh was forced to share a cell with Clement McNally, who was serving a life sentence for stabbing a friend to death. McNally was known to have a personality disorder and was prone to uncontrollable outbursts. He had daubed the walls of his cell with satanic symbols and told other prisoners that he was "Satan's hands and eyes". A prisoner told the jury that "everyone could see that McNally was losing his mind" and alleged that officers "laughed off" suggestions that he had serious mental health issues. The jury found that staff failed to carry out a CSRA on McNally before putting him in a cell with Hesketh, who was garrotted by his killer.

A year after that killing, another prisoner, Shahid Aziz, was beaten and stabbed to death by his cellmate, Peter McCann, at Leeds prison. McCann had a history of violent attacks on fellow prisoners. The day before the killing, a probation officer phoned the prison warning that McCann was a threat to prisoners. Her warning was ignored and, in 2007, an inquest jury heard that the CSRA process was confined to staff asking McCann if he was dangerous. McCann said he was not.

The piece lists other examples, including one in which a racist prisoner beat his young Asian (in the UK sense) cellmate to death with a tableleg, and another where a prisoner not only killed his cellmate, but started to eat him. All told, there have been 14 deaths due to double bunking in the UK in the last nine years - and there is no sign of it stopping. In overcrowded and chaotic prisons there is no time to do proper psychological assessments and ensure that risks are managed, while staff institutionalised not to care have no interest in protecting prisoners from each other. The upshot is that despite the abolition of the death penalty in the UK, people die as a direct result of their imprisonment, in a completely preventable way. And if we follow in the UK's footsteps and introduce double-bunking, the same will happen here.