13:26, December 26 339 0 theguardian.com

2017-12-26 13:26:04
Our brutalising and degrading prisons

Yet another damning report on prison conditions, not least with respect to those with mental health problems, emerges (The treatment of prisoners with mental health problems is a national shame, 20 December). Eric Allison notes the call by Inquest, among others, for alternatives to prison to be found for those suffering mental health problems and a more therapeutic response for those for whom prison is the last resort. But the problems are much more fundamental – if blindingly obvious. For almost 40 years, Inquest has worked with families bereaved by prison deaths. During that period, coroner after coroner has highlighted repeated, systemic failures and the inappropriate use of prison for a range of different groups who should simply not be there.

Meanwhile, a constant stream of investigations, inspectorate and monitoring reports, and inquiries into prisons has produced rigorous, evidence-based recommendations to protect the health and safety of prisoners and staff in British jails. And yet even the state’s own mechanisms for ensuring accountability are ignored and not acted on. This is a clear indictment of a complacent, brutalising and degrading system operating outside of democratic control. Successive ministers and governments should be ashamed.

Deborah Coles Director, Inquest, Professor Joe Sim Liverpool John Moores University, Professor Steve Tombs Open University