HMP Wakefield accused of torture against Muslim inmates

Georgina Andrews is a member of the YCL’s Birmingham branch

Accounts have emerged of abusive conduct in the segregation unit in HMP Wakefield today (Wednesday 25 August), following protests at HMP Long Lartin four days ago, sparked by similar, if not identical treatment towards Muslim prisoners. The segregation units have been labelled as “prisons within prisons” due to extreme solitary confinement usage.

Despite claims that authority to use solitary confinement is frequently reassessed, many prisoners have not been granted the chance to make representations against staying in solitary confinement any longer. In fact, many officers have consistently fabricated the lie that prisoners have rejected the opportunity to make representations.

Undeterred by the official torture rules, prison officers are using their command to abuse Muslim prisoners above and beyond what’s already set out by the state. 

One prisoner is on 7-man unlock, a strategy employed by prisons where every time the cell is unlocked, 7 shielded guards charge in with the prisoner in a stipulated position at the back of the cell – otherwise he is assaulted.

Others have faced the removal of fundamental essentials such as hot water and blankets, as well as exercise and the use of showers. One prisoner has not seen the outside of his cell for a month, amounting to psychological torture. 

One excuse that prison officers have given for refusing prisoners access to showers and exercise is that there was only one female officer on duty in the unit, yet prisoners report that there were in fact 6 other male prison officers on the unit at the time. 

Prison officers use nickings, which are accusations of breaking prison rules, to avoid complaints and any uncoverings of the abuse. For example, one prisoner has had his access to money removed, therefore disabling him from purchasing edible food and any contact with loved ones alongside others in his support network due to challenging prison officers.

Many of the prisoners facing this maltreatment are practicing Muslims. The targeted discrimination reflects a wider issue of Islamophobia in the UK with half of all prisoners in segregation units being Muslim. An independent review in 2017 concluded that alongside 15% of Britain’s prison population are Muslim, despite making up only 5% of the wider population.

The prison officers act with impunity because they are protected by the state, having complete authority over vulnerable prisoners, who are undoubtedly facing mental health crises as a result of their treatment.

Prisons are not built for reflection and healing nor for protection of the community. Instead, they are built to intensify the super exploitation of the working class, particularly in the case of ethnic minorities, through slave labour and to give the illusion that once we get rid of all of the ‘evil’ (poor) people we won’t have to worry about crime because that’s an issue with the individual, not the system. Liberalism truly rots the brain.

Such abuse has been sanctioned by politicians and the media, who have portrayed Muslims as suspicious and criminal, which has justified the increased surveillance of Muslims over the last two decades. Thus, no investigation by the Tory government will solve this problem. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter if any guidelines are introduced to prevent this from happening if at the heart of the issue is a system hell bent on exploiting and oppressing as many working people as possible.

Georgina Andrews

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