'Degrading' sanitation system forces prisoners to slop out cells

Prisoners are being forced to slop out in their cells because of a "degrading system" of sanitation, say inspectors.

Slopping out, where prisoners use buckets in which to relieve themselves while locked in their cells, and empty them later, was supposed to have ended in 1996 but the practice persists at some prisons in England and Wales.

Conditions at Coldingley Prison in Surrey were so primitive that inmates had little alternative but to defecate into plastic bags and empty bowls of urine out of cell windows. Nigel Newcomen, Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons, who visited Coldingley in June, said: "The night sanitation system in the older accommodation remained wholly unacceptable."

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, commented: "When an otherwise decent prison is taken to task for degrading sanitation arrangements, leading to a gross form of 'slopping out', you wonder what century we are in. In a modern prison system this practice is demeaning and unacceptable." Coldingley was opened in 1969 as a Category B prison but is now Category C and focuses on the resettlement of prisoners.

In the summer, the Independent Monitoring Boards criticised 10 other prisons for their inadequate lavatory facilities. One was Albany, on the site of a former military barracks on the Isle of Wight.

At Coldingley, inspectors found that on wings A to D there was no in-cell sanitation or drinking water. Instead, access to lavatories was by an automated system. Only one prisoner at a time from each landing could go to the lavatory at night, and inmates were allowed to leave their cells for a total of three eight-minute periods.

To use the system, prisoners pressed a button that put them in a computerised queue, which could hold a maximum of eight prisoners. Cell doors were unlocked for 30 seconds, and if a prisoner missed this window he went to the back of the queue. If a prisoner did not return to his cell within eight minutes, he was prohibited from using the toilet again that night.

There were also concerns about "slopping out" in prison escort vans. A few prisoners said that on long journeys they had been given gel bags to use instead of being offered lavatory breaks.

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