Prison Tensions Risk Boiling Over As Heatwave Hits 'Oven-Like' Jails

Fears over rocketing temperatures and poor ventilation.
Current conditions in prisons have been described as being 'like an oven' as a heatwave grips Britain.
Current conditions in prisons have been described as being 'like an oven' as a heatwave grips Britain.
PA Archive/PA Images

Tensions risk flaring up in Britain’s prisons as jails, notably those built in the Victorian-era, fail to cope with the heatwave, a charity has warned.

Cells have been described as “like ovens” as the UK looks set to see the mercury hit 86F (30C) for the third day running on Wednesday.

The conditions echo warnings from the official inspector of prisons, who said in October that ventilation was very poor in some jails.

The rocketing temperatures mean the government risks contravening United Nations (UN) rules on the treatment of inmates.

Windows in newer prisons often don’t open at all, while those in older jails, some dating back to the 1800s, are blocked by special mesh to prevent the use of so-called “lines” between cellmates and to help curb the use of drones.

The situation has led to agitation in at least one prison in recent days, a charity told HuffPost UK.

Eric Allison, a journalist and trustee of the Prisoners’ Advice Service, said: “I was speaking to somebody last week and they said the atmosphere in the prison was kicking off quite a lot - this is in a local jail - and he said it is always worse in hot weather. It’s pretty bad.

“They are like ovens, basically, and I say that from experience, and from recent conversations I’ve had with prisoners.”

“The prison system is in a state of meltdown, and that was before this heat,” Allison added.

HMPs Exeter, Durham and Wormwood Scrubs have all been criticised for dire conditions and lack of basic ventilation.

Prison Service rules demand wardens regularly assess conditions, including temperatures, to keep prisoners safe.

And the UN states natural and artificial ventilation must be provided in cells.

Ryan Harman of the Prison Reform Trust said: “Ensuring that prison regimes operate as planned, and that people are able to get out of uncomfortable cells and spend time in the fresh air, is vital.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson would not confirm that the prison service was upholding its own standards and those of the UN last night.

But they said in a statement: “We have improved ventilation at many prisons since this report was published last October. Prison staff are working hard to reduce discomfort in this hot weather - including using fans, increasing ventilation and providing extra opportunities to shower.”

The heatwave is also likely to be affecting immigration detention centres, which are ultimately managed by the Home Office.

Last year, the prisons inspectorate found detention centres at Colnbrook, near Heathrow, and Brook House, near Gatwick, did not have adequate ventilation or air conditioning, despite being relatively new buildings.

Both centres, which are run by private contractors, have previously been criticised over conditions.

“The fact that detainees could not open a window in their cells and were still locked in for extended periods clearly affected their sense of well-being,” a July 2017 report said.

Inspectors wrote of Brook House: “The lack of ventilation was the most common complaint, and many cells were too stuffy overnight.”

Responding to questions over the welfare of those held at the immigration centres, a Home Office spokesperson said: “We take the welfare of the detainees in our care very seriously.

“We are taking action to address the recommendations made in the individual inspection reports and improvements have already been implemented.”


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