Justice CommitteeWritten submission from Prisoner K Redacted for publication. Redactions are signified thus: “[....]”

I am a 68 year old prisoner who has been in prison since [...]. Like the increasing majority of prisoners over 60, I have been (falsely) convicted of historic sex offences. With the current witch hunt, the large sums available in compensation and no “presumption of innocence” for sexual offences, I can only see, in the future, prisoners over 60 taking up more than 50% of the prison population in this country.

In addition to my age, I also have a paralysed left arm and suffer severe chronic nerve pain. Generally, I have found there is nothing in place to reflect the needs of elderly and infirm prisoners and often their problems are ignored by the Governor and Officers, who have a duty of care. I am sure that you will have seen a copy of the Prison Reform Trust’s “Doing Time—Good Practice with Older People in Prison—the Views of Prison Staff” 2010, so I will just tell you of a few of my experiences in the five prisons I have been in.

My first prison was HMP Bullingdon. I was quickly welcomed by other prisoners as there was a system of carers in place for the elderly and infirm. However, the officers paid no heed to age or disability. I was given an IEP warning for failing to obey a shouted order because of my hearing problems. This was not accepted as a reason why I did not obey the order. Healthcare was initially very bad but improved with a change of GP. All my on-going hospital appointments were ignored. The worst thing this original doctor did concerned a 64 year old man who was on remand for serious historic sex-offences. Because of his serious mental turmoil this man had been on tranquilisers, vital for his sanity. Upon his arrival in prison, he was immediately denied this essential medication. It was easy to tell that without these pills the prisoner was a serious suicide risk. You could see it in his facial expression. The officers were aware of his state of mind but paid no heed to it. He was placed in a cell with another man. When that man had a visit, he hung himself, I gave a statement to the Ombudsman and the police, but we never heard anymore. Even the investigating Ombudsman was not asked to go to the inquest. Then there was a 78 year old man with terminal cancer. Most of his stomach had been removed. In spite of this, he was put on a SOTP course. Later when he was bedridden, he had no heating for a week, in freezing winter conditions. Despite his terminal condition, no clemency was shown him. He was finally removed to a hospice as he was dying to save the prison a lot of paperwork. He died the next day.

The heating was regularly switched off in mid winter. It failed regularly with no hurry to repair it. Often officers, whose rooms were always heated, would open all the wing skylights. The more they were asked to shut them, the longer they stayed open.

I have toenails that are too thick for the toe clippers available on the canteen, I was refused the clippers that I brought in with me. At HMP Wandsworth they were thrown into a bin by a reception officer, still in their original packaging. Despite a stomach condition that requires a wholemeal diet, it took 18 months to get it. In 8 months at HMP Wandsworth, I was never given it. At Maidstone, I have eventually been given it regularly for sometime, if it is not taken by the servery workers. There were single cells at Bullingdon, but they were only given to young troublemakers. The elderly were always twoed-up. Wandsworth was even worse and Brixton worse again. Only HMP Maidstone offers single cells to the elderly, absolutely essential for any quality of life.

I was taken from Bullingdon to an appointment in St Thomas’ Hospital in central London. It was a day trip. The two officers ignored me throughout the day. Lunchtime they both ate packed lunches that they’d brought with them. Other patients looked on in surprise when I was given nothing to eat. I should have had a lunch pack too.

Later, I was unexpectedly shipped to Wandsworth with no possessions and denied pain killers for a month. The first night I was denied a pillow and only had one blanket. Later, the pillow I was given was like a slab of concrete and I had to fill the pillow case with clothes instead, This lasted most of my time there. Throughout my eight months there, I was never given the correct amount of painkillers. I was two-ed up with a lifer who’d already done 27 years. None of my medical records followed me and my possessions left a Bullingdon, as I was told I’d be returning, took 2½ months to reach me. Some possessions had been removed by Bullingdon reception officers. When I arrived I was denied my special sleeve and glove for my paralysed left arm/hand. They were finally returned to me sometime later. Then, every time I went to court they would be taken off me by reception. Nurses would have to get them returned. During my 6 weeks at Brixton I was never allowed them. On hospital appointments, my wrists were handcuffed together, causing me great pain. It should have been obvious to officers that my shrivelled up left arm should not be handcuffed. They said there was nothing on my records so they had to apply the handcuffs and were not allowed to use common sense. On my regular court appearances, I was always shut in a cell without heating and denied my pain killers. There was no heating in the buses, either. The day after spending 16 hours like this, I was forced to plead guilty despite my innocence because I couldn’t stand anymore cold and pain. In my whole time at Wandsworth, I was only allowed gym on four occasions, despite constant requests. The gym officers would only unlock the younger prisoners whom they could better relate to.

I was only at HMP Brixton for six weeks. The regime was 22 hours bang-up. The needs of the elderly were ignored. I did not get wholemeal bread and had to share, for a while, with a prisoner with mental health issues. During my time there, legal mail was lost, delayed or opened, with documents removed.

When I was transferred to Maidstone, the bus left too late for us to get there within the allotted hours. We spent three days at Elmley in a freezing cell with only one blanket and no pillow or kettle (for the first night). Once I got the kettle I had to boil it continuously to keep warm. When leaving, a reception officer removed my special safety pin holding my sleeve in place and threw it away.

At Maidstone there is no system in place to care for elderly or infirm prisoners. There are no social activities for them. Most are unable to join the gym/outside activities for the younger prisoners. We are put downstairs, which is the coldest part of the wing as often doors and windows are left open. The D.L.O. officer is useless and has ignored all my requests to see him. It seems the elderly are regularly subjected to M.D.T.’s though they know we will be negative. I have also been made to put all my possessions in the volumetric control boxes over lunch and unpack them immediately. They were not interested in checking I had all my stuff packed. My letters to friends and family have been passed to the police. My complaints have been ignored. After a cell search, my table was removed as my personal officer said I could use the broken leg as a weapon. It was broken when I moved in. I was then forced to rely on a table that was too small to get close to which made eating and letter writing difficult for a one-armed person. All attempts, including an application to the DLO were ignored.

The worst nightmare of all for us are the regular “transfers” to other prisons, often sprung upon us with little time to pack, phone family, cancel visits or say goodbyes. We are expected to carry all of our bags, despite our physical inability. We are then forced to travel and wait hours in those terrible and claustrophobic “bus” cells with no access to toilets, proper seats or seatbelts. Upon arrival at the new prison we are back to square one, without many of our possessions. None of the needs or achievements at previous prisons follow us; only the bad things. We are back to one (head) pillow, one blanket and few extra clothes. To get back to the gym takes ages; much longer if you tell them about your medical problems. I thought “NOMS” was intended to make transfers easier?

Officers often expect the elderly to remain in their cells and not join into any activities that are available. Access to computers for the elderly to write legal letters is extremely limited and impossible at Maidstone. Copying papers is another impossibility which means all legal letters have to be written twice. Water to drink is often unavailable, even for the elderly and someone like me who needs to drink regularly because of medication side effects. Elderly dementia sufferers are even worse off because they are left living in their own, sad little worlds.

I hope that what I have written will be taken seriously by the reader. I have not written this for my own benefit, but in the slender hope that what I have written may help other elderly prisoners, older and more infirm than me.

Please acknowledge receipt of this letter so that I know my efforts to send you my input have not been in vain.

February 2013

1 Redacted for publication. Redactions are signified thus: “[....]”

Prepared 11th September 2013