§ Lord Lester of Herne Hill
asked Her Majesty's Government:
What are the practical differences in treatment and conditions between the use of strip cells in the management of prisoners thought to be at risk of suicide of self-harm and the use of safe cells for that purpose; and [HL4528]
Whether they consider the use of (a) strip cells; and (b) safe cells is compatible with Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights; and, if so, what are their reasons. [HL4529]
§ Baroness Scotland of Asthal
The Government do not believe that the use of unfurnished cells (the preferred term) or safer cells (the term used) violates Article 3. An unfurnished (or special) cell is a cell from which the usual furniture has been removed and which is either totally unfurnished or does not contain basic items of furniture such as a table and chair. Its use is carefully circumscribed and regulated, with safeguards in place. This accommodation is not used as a punishment but for the temporary confinement of a violent or refractory prisoner if it is judged necessary to try to prevent the prisoner injuring another prisoner or staff, damaging property, creating a disturbance, or from self-injury.
Prison Service policy is that prisoners identified as being at risk of suicide or self-harm should not be placed in an unfurnished cell, unless in exceptional circumstances they are additionally identified as violent or refractory. In such cases, prisons are required to decide on the appropriate supervision measures to be in place to ensure the safety of the prisoner during the period they remain in that accommodation. Guidelines are being developed to reinforce the need to exhaust all alternative methods of care in such cases before resorting to the use of an unfurnished cell.
Safer cells are cells which have specially designed furniture and fixtures which are manufactured and installed to make the attachment of ligatures very difficult, and access to window bars prevented via non-opening windows with integral ventilation grills. The design of these cells can help prisoners and assist staff to manage those distressed prisoners at particular risk of attempting to kill themselves through impulsive acts.
All prisoners identified at risk of suicide or self-harm are cared for through the use of a care planning system (currently being reviewed with piloted changes) 7WA that aims to provide each prisoner with an individual support plan to meet their needs. This occurs regardless of the type of accommodation they are located in. Such plans might include the utilisation of special support for any mental health and/or drugs/alcohol problems, use of regime activities, problem solving around any personal safety issues, strengthening ties with or re-engaging with family, peer support, or help with resettlement issues.