‘A prison within a prison’

Concern for time spent in solitary confinement

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Ministers are “continuing to evade the fundamental question” about how many prisoners are being segregated in their cells long after Covid restrictions have been lifted, the Prison Reform Trust has told Big Issue North.

Campaigners and prisoners claim that staff shortages mean that the dangerous precedent set during lockdown, in which prisoners spent up to 23 hours in their cells per day, have not been effectively reversed.

The United Nation’s Nelson Mandela rules forbid theuse of solitary confinementfor more than 15 days at a time because of the known health consequences of this isolation. Anything over15 days is treatment tantamount to torture.

A report in July by the prisoner-led charity User Voice, together with Queen’s University Belfast, revealed that prolonged solitary confinement for the prison population during Covid lockdowns led to a significant increase in levels of anxiety and depression, with a third of prisoners showing symptoms of severe anxiety disorder indicating high levels of post-traumatic stress. But an exodus of prison officers means that prisoners are still struggling to access education, work and exercise.

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