HMP Liverpool ‘fundamentally unsafe’, say inspectors

Hidden: Andy Aitchison’s photos as featured in Proof magazine, issue 2

Prison inspectors last week found that HMP Liverpool was infested with vermin and ‘fundamentally unsafe’. The report found that some parts of the jail ‘had become so dirty, infested and hazardous to health’ that they could not be cleaned.’

Along with broken windows, filthy toilets and rats, the 1,155 capacity jail had a backlog of approximately 2000 maintenance tasks.

One prisoner who had mental health problems was left for weeks in a cell which was bare apart from a bed and a blocked and dirty lavatory. The cell was also damp, dark, with broken windows and exposed wires.

The chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke described the prisoner’s conditions as ‘appaling’. Clarke criticized the fact that the prison leadership had allowed the facility to deteriorate to such an extreme, noting that ‘the inspection team was highly experienced and could not recall having seen worse living conditions than those at HMP Liverpool.’ You can read more here.

Attempts at addressing the problems by prison staff were, according to Clarke, ‘piecemeal and superficial’ citing his fear that ‘this would stop as soon as we left, which is clearly what happened after the last inspection’.

However, he noted that blame was not to be levied solely against local prison governors and that the national leadership of the prison service should also be accountable for the failures.

Meanwhile, inspectors found this week that HMP Peterborough subjected female inmates to ‘excessive strip-searching’ despite 53% of women prisoners having survived physical, emotional or sexual abuse as a child.

Over nine weeks, 70 women were strip-searched ‘far more’ than one would see in a regular prison (Peterborough is unusual in it that houses men and women on the same site). Clarke described their treatment as ‘particularly disappointing’ given the attempts at training prison officers in becoming more sensitive to prisoners’ trauma.

The use of force was double the standard rate compared with women’s prisons.

Mental health statistics were similarly concerning: 65% of female inmates reported being depressed on arrival and over 25% felt suicidal according to inspectors. Six out of 10 women felt unsafe at some point during their incarceration.

Andrew Neilson, at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the report demonstrated that issues in the failing prison system were spreading. He said: ‘The chaos in men’s prisons is becoming clearer by the day, but today’s inspection report is the first in years to find that a woman’s jail is not safe enough. It is shameful that the challenges in the men’s prison at Peterborough have become so overwhelming that women on the site are receiving less support.’

Author: Sarah Foss

Sarah is a journalist and Justice Gap reporter. She has a longstanding interest in migration, detention and human rights activism. Sarah is former Anti-Racism Officer of the London School of Economics student union

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