Family members of people in prison and campaigners from the Prisoner Solidarity Network1 and bluebaglife2 are calling for action on extreme temperatures in prison cells as another heatwave hits, with temperatures expected to reach 32 degrees on Friday.
People held in several prisons including HMP Coldingley, HMP Frankland, HMP Highdown and others, have reported feeling ill and being unable to sleep as they are locked up in cells with poor ventilation and no fans for up to 24 hours per day.
With the vast majority of prisoners now held in solitary confinement (locked in their cells for between 22 to 24 hours per day) due to coronavirus restrictions, families and friends say they’re extremely worried about the impact of excessive temperatures on the physical and mental health of their loved ones.
The partner of a prisoner (who has recently been released) said, “The cell he spends 23 hours a day in has a window that only opens about 2 inches at the most. He hasn’t been able to sleep and says the heat and lack of air is unbearable.”
Member of bluebaglife and formerly imprisoned Elliot Murawski said, “Prison cells in the summer are ridiculously hot. I remember one cell on the top floor specifically. They’d left the heating on until the end of May and the hot weather had started. My windows were the type that didn’t open, we just had small vents. It was unbearable. I had a clock sent in that showed the temperature – it was 37 degrees. The only thing I could do to cope with the heat was lay with a wet towel over my body. I barely slept for weeks.”
Family members are also worried that prisoners who become ill due to high temperatures may not get the healthcare they need. In 2018, the Care Quality Commission found that prisoners had died due to prison staff failing to respond properly to medical emergencies3. A more recent report from the Nuffield Trust found that prisoners miss 40% of hospital appointments and that prisoners had been admitted to hospital with life-threatening conditions caused by lack of treatment for diabetes4. In summer 2017, Rafal Sochacki died after being left in a hot court cell; the temperature in the cell was estimated to be 34 – 40 degrees celsius5.
A spokesperson for the Prisoner Solidarity Network said, “The issue of unsafe temperatures in prison cells is raised every summer by people inside prisons and by their partners and families. It is inhumane to hold people in these conditions and should be addressed with urgency by the Ministry of Justice. If it is not possible to maintain safe temperatures within prisons then people need to be released to safe places. At the very least, as an interim measure all prisoners should be in a cell with adequate ventilation and have access to a fan, as well as plenty of drinking water. We know from many sources across the prison estate that this is not currently the case.”
3 The Guardian, 2018. Poor healthcare in jails is killing inmates, says NHS watchdog