An IMB Report on Slopping-Out brings back the bad old days for Former prisoner Noel Smith
I guess there are a few of us left that still remember the bad old days in prison (not that there are too many good days in prison at any time), but, believe it or not, things did used to be a lot worse. And it wasn’t that long ago either. A recent report from the Independent Monitoring Board on ‘slopping out’ brought it all back to me. When I first entered the juvenile system in 1975, every inmate was given a (usually bad) haircut, a prison uniform, and a bag of kit. Your kit included a plastic piss-pot, which was to be used in place of a toilet and emptied in a communal sluice as soon as your cell was unlocked in the morning. In those days the all-pervading smell of prison was one of boiled cabbage, stale urine, and faeces. Prisoners who were locked in cells, sometimes for up to 23 hours a day in most local prisons, would defecate onto a newspaper (or whatever was available) and then launch it out of the cell window rather than use the plastic pot and have it sit there for hours until slopping out time. For decades the exercise yards of almost every prison resembled the parcel room of a postal sorting office, though none of the loosely wrapped parcels contained anything nice. This also led to infestations of mice, rats, and cockroaches.
But on Friday the 12th of April 1996, a much publicised celebration was held at HMP Armley, in Leeds, to mark the end of that foul and unhygienic practise known as ‘slopping out’. The campaign for internal sanitation had been instigated by (then) Chief Inspector of Prisons, Judge Stephen Tumin and his report was adopted by Lord Woolf in his own report into the causes of the Strangeways riots of 1990. The ceremony was attended by (then) Prisons Minister Ann Widdicombe and the (then) Director General of the Prison Service Richard Tilt, and to much trumpeting by all involved the last plastic piss-pot was ceremoniously binned. From this day forth, the assembled dignitaries declared, there will be no more slopping out in English prisons! Unfortunately, they were wrong.
According to the IMB there are still 10 prisons in this country where prisoners are issued with piss-pots. That’s 2000 prisoners who are living in the land that time forgot! These prisons have cells that are, apparently, too small for in-cell sanitation, and use a Night Sanitation Computer System (Night-San). The problem with Night-san is that the computer system does not allow ‘24 hour access’ to sanitation, and sometimes the computer will break down, leaving prisoners with no choice except the pot or the window. The IMB have highlighted this in their latest report, and include a comprehensive breakdown of conditions in each of the 10 prisons, HMCIP Reports on the matter, and a selection of letters from prisoners who have been, or are still going, through this degrading experience. Questions have been asked in the House of Lords about slopping out, and it is a breach of Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states – ‘All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.’ There is very little human dignity in having to use a plastic pot or bucket as a toilet and then live in a locked room with it.
As the IMB report concludes – ‘…it was considered too expensive to rebuild 2000 cells in 1996; it has somehow been possible to build many thousands of additional cells since then, but the 2000 remain’ (without toilets).
Prisons still slopping out – Blundestone, Bristol, Bullwood Hall, Coldingley, Gloucester, Grendon, Hewell(Brockhill), Isle of Wight (Albany), Long Lartin, and Ranby.
Noel Smith is a former prisoner
Comments about this article
10/11/2010 Steven Battram -Prison staff, BOV's, governors, religious figures, anyone working in the prisons where slopping out still exists should be ashamed of themselves. But as we know, all 'they' care about is they have a job, even if the working environment is abusing fellow human beings. As we all know prisoners are viewed as scum by prison personnel and any depravation is acceptable. Most prison personnel prefer conditions for prisoners to be austere, 'to teach them a lesson.' As in their warped mentality depravation and destructive regimes is what prison should mostly consist of.
29/11/2010 Rob BurnsWhilst I agree with some of what Steven as said above I think his views of screws is somewhat tainted. Having served time in the bad old days of slopping out when unlocking at night was a no go whatsoever and serving time 3 years ago the screws attitudes have changed as well. 20 years ago at the time of the Strangeway riot the screws were firm but fair today they have their favourites, have no idea what consistency is and dont give a toss. They also seem to have this view that they can do and say what they want with no fear of reproach.
21/12/2010 LiamAs much as I agree that slopping out is foul and must end, please bear in mind why prisoners are in prison in the first place. If a crime hadn't been committed then the prioner wouldn't be in a cell, and wouldn't therefore even need to contemplate slopping out. Crime has victims, many of whom live with the consequences of crime years after the event.
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