LETTER: `Bang up' custody is no holiday camp

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The Independent Online
Sir: In the midst of the reports of the death on remand of Frederick West and of recent reports of "holiday camp" prisons, may I draw your readers' attention to the conditions of those prisoners who are remanded in custody by the courts. These are peoplewho have not been convicted of any criminal offence and who, in many cases, will be found "not guilty" or given a non-custodial sentence.

Here at Pentonville, the average day consists of being "banged up" for 21-22 hours, even longer on Sundays and bank holidays. These "bang ups" include an evening-to-morning span of 15-17 hours.

There is a a morning "exercise" period of 45 to 50 minutes. However, if you elect to exercise you cannot shower or use the telephone. If you elect for any one of the three options, the other two are usually excluded. There is an "association" period of 9

0 minutes to two hours, two or three times each week, not usually on Saturdays and never on Sundays.

There is a library here and notices about the place exhorting us to use it but access is almost impossible. I made eight written applications and spoke to the wing governor twice before I was allowed to borrow four books.

There are toilets and wash basins in the cells, obviating the need for "slopping out" - but no materials to clean them. Outside of prison, these toilets would not be permitted under existing health regulations. Although various politicians and civil servants herald the installation of integral toilets as a "civilising" step in prisons, it is in fact being used to decrease time allowed outside of cells that would have had to have been allowed to use the landing toilets.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Stephen Tummin, has commented a number of times on the regimes in local prisons, the effect of this appears to have been an increase in facilities matched by a decrease in time outside the cells to utilise these new facilities.

Whether or not there has been any change in the Prisons Act or the prison rules regarding the increase in "bang ups" for remand prisoners is impossible to tell as we are no longer permitted to see either of these documents. Although we are "permitted" totake any complaints to the "Area Managers" or the Onbudsman, the length of time taken to deal with them would usually see a remand prisoner either released by the courts or sentenced, thereby coming under, usually, a much more liberal regime.

Yours sincerely, GEORGE BURTON Trial Wing HM Prison, Pentonville London, N7

2 January