Protests at the Royal College of Psychiatrists endorsing abuse of prisoners

National News

Former prisoners will today join a gathering called by a coalition of groups outside the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) to protest its endorsement of Close Supervision Centres (CSCs). CSCs are prisons within UK prisons — segregation units where prisoners are locked in their cell 22 or more hours per day for months or years with no independent right of appeal. This level of confinement and deprivation of contact with other human beings is comparable to “solitary confinement”.

Being held in solitary confinement for more than 14 days is a breach of the UN Mandela Rules on the treatment of prisoners. Amnesty International condemned CSCs (formerly SSUs) as far back as 1997 as “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”.

Shamefully the RCPsych, whose primary duty should be the welfare of patients, instead endorses CSCs as “Enabling Environments”, that is places where there is a focus on creating a “positive and effective social environment”.

Kevan Thakrar, imprisoned in a CSC now for over 11 years (most of that time in solitary confinement) said: “they cause the majority of its residents to develop major mental illness requiring treatment within the secure hospitals . . .”.

Other prisoners describe being fed through a hatch and isolated from family and outside support. They speak of attacks from guards that remain unpunished and complain that there is no transparent process to decide who is placed in the CSC and therefore “no way out”. A 2017 HMP Inspectorate report found that there was “no independent scrutiny of key decisions.” The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has written to the British Government about Mr. Thakrar’s case and conditions in CSCs noting that the UK may be in breach of international treaties it has signed.

Approximately 50% of prisoners held in CSCs are Muslim which indicates that these units are institutionally racist. This is not the only time that the RCPsych has been called out for racism. Last year more than 160 psychiatrists wrote to the RCPsych urging it to “root out all examples of institutional racism and colonial mentality”.

The campaign demanding that the RCPsych withdraw its endorsement of CSCs is backed by more than 60 organizations and hundreds of individuals, including Prof. Angela Davis, author and anti-racist campaigner Selma James, former Chief Inspector of Prisons Lord Ramsbotham, miscarriage of justice victim Winston Silcott, Prof. Benjamin Zephaniah and a number of practicing psychiatrists.

The coalition calling today’s demonstration at the RCPsych includes Legal Action for Women, Payday men’s network, Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association, Women of Colour Global Women’s Strike, Community Action on Prison Expansion, Fight Racism Fight Imperialism, Prisoner Solidarity Network.

Sara Callaway from Women of Colour Global Women’s Strike said:

We are part of this campaign because CSCs are racist and women end up picking up the pieces when men are abused within them. We will be making our voices heard until the RCPsych stops covering up for cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. This campaign was initiated by prisoners and is growing in size – CSCs and solitary must end!”

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