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CPT report on UK: persistent overcrowding and violence in prisons and insufficient legal safeguards for psychiatric patients

In a new report on the United Kingdom the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) again raises concerns over the numerous cases of serious inter-prisoner violence and violence by prisoners on staff and the lack of a coherent strategy to tackle chronic overcrowding. It also underlines the need to strengthen patients’ legal safeguards concerning involuntary treatment and consent to treatment.

The report contains the CPT’s findings of its periodic visit to the United Kingdom from 8 to 21 June 2021, focusing on the treatment of persons held in prisons and psychiatric clinics as well as by the police in England. The CPT again highlights the cumulative deleterious effects on the lives of prisoners of chronic overcrowding, poor living conditions and the lack of purposeful regimes. Since 2016, these long-standing problems have been exacerbated by a significant escalation in levels of violence. The Covid-19 pandemic may have resulted in a temporary reduction in overcrowding and lower violence levels but the report notes that the underlying structural causes of overcrowding and violence in prison have not been addressed.

As regards violence, the report notes that it remains prevalent in all the male adult prisons visited and would no doubt be a lot higher were prisoners not confined to their cells for most of the day. The CPT delegation found that the vast majority of prisoners continued to be locked up in their cells for 22 to 23 hours a day, with far too little to do since March 2020.

In the psychiatric establishments visited, the reports notes positively that the CPT delegation met many dedicated health professionals working hard to care for their patients. Further, it found that the material conditions in the establishments visited ranged from good to excellent and that the treatment offered to patients included comprehensive individual care and treatment plans, developed by a multi-disciplinary team with the involvement of the patients themselves.

However, the CPT considers that there are a few areas which require serious reflection and change; notably, it considers that an immediate external psychiatric opinion should be sought in any case where a patient objects to the treatment proposed by the establishment's doctors. In addition, patients should be able to appeal to an independent authority against compulsory treatment decisions. Consent to treatment safeguards also need to be reinforced. The report also addresses the high levels of use of restrictive practices, including restraining patients in the prone position and instances of long-term seclusion.

In their response, the United Kingdom authorities provide information on the measures taken to implement the CPT´s recommendations. The CPT report and the response of the authorities have been made public at the request of the United Kingdom Government.

 CPT and the United Kingdom


CPT Strasbourg 7 July 2022
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