‘Slopping out’

By Noel Smith , from insidetime issue November 2010

An IMB Report on Slopping-Out brings back the bad old days for Former prisoner Noel Smith

‘Slopping out’

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

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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.

Most of my previous sentences were in prisons were slopping out was the norm. Not a single prison worker ever resigned, or voiced their concerns that it was degrading for prisoners not to have proper sanitation in their cells. When I was 16 and in HMP Ashford and was new to prison regimes, I had not filled up a jug of water. I was thirsty and rung the emergency bell to request some water. The screw told me my request was not an emergency, that I was being placed on report. That when he was in the army they were trained to drink their piss when there was no water, and told me to drink my piss.

The prison system as a whole disgusts me. It is staffed by ignorant inconsiderate people who are not qualified to deal with the prisoners they come into contact with. Most prison staff should stick to cleaning public toilets. Maybe that is why prison staff don't mind working in conditions where prisoners are walking around emptying piss-pots. As long as they have a job prison staff, that means anyone who works in a prison, could not give a toss about what conditions are like for prisoners. No doubt if the government brought back hanging there would be a queue of screws wanting to assist.

Prison staff should be ashamed of the regimes they create and the high recidvism rates. Any fool can detain a prisoner behind a wall, locked in cells. Prison personnel fail prisoners because of their selfish, uncaring mentality and their lack of intelligence.

29/11/2010 Rob Burns

Whilst 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.
The IMB whose report this is based on is nothing more than a token gesture as they have no power to change what is broken. So whilst they prepare this report what is it going to secure? Nothing.
Slopping out was and is a degrading daily routine that in the 21st century should not be happening. If jails such as Durham (the smallest cell I have ever been in) can find room for toilets why can't these other jails find the room.

21/12/2010 Liam

As 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.

23/1/2011 concerned


How right you are! There is a recession on.If you don't like the conditions in prison:Don't go there

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This article appears under the following categories...
Human Rights
Prison Conditions

Summary of headlines for November 2010
‘Massive miscarriage of justice’
Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000
£185 Weekly Pay for Prisoners?
Introducing… The Beginners Guide to Predicting Serious Re-offending
Making prisoners pay to support victims
Month by Month
Why ‘Proper’ Jobs in Prisons will Fail
Grendon: a prison in danger
Current page: ‘Slopping out’
False Allegations
Jail is not the way forward
Prison Widow
A change is long overdue
There is no quick fix
Psychiatric indifference - and why
Two strikes and you’re inside
Holloway Prison: An Inside Story
The CCRC set the record straight
Booking a visit

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