Alex Cavendish is a former inmate. He was moved between six prisons, and eventually was released in 2014. Adam Mac is a prisoner serving life at HMP Wakefield. Both reveal an institution marred by systematic drug abuse, assault, violence and rape.
Catherine McMaster reports.
Former Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Harwick’s report from 2013 painted a
graphic and bleak picture of Her Majesty’s Prisons. Violence was at a record high rate, bullying was rife and legal highs were widely available, the backlash from the public was severe. The government simply had to do something. Yet the report issued the following year fared no better. ‘Overall the outcomes we reported on in 2014-15 were the worst in ten years’, Hardwick writes. It revealed an average of four-five prisoners across England and Wales dying per week. Half of those deaths were self-inflicted.
On Tuesday 19 July 2016 new Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke released his first report. His revelations were shocking. While his predecessor noted prisons were the ‘worst in ten years’, Mr. Clarke revealed conditions had only deteriorated.
During 2015-16 there were over 20,000 assaults in prisons, indicating a 27% increase. Serious assaults rose by nearly 31%. Over 32,000 cases of self-harm were reported, with a total of 100 self-inflicted deaths. ‘Perennial problems of overcrowding, poor physical environments in ageing prisons, and inadequate staffing’ were given as reasons behind the exponential rise in violence.
Government figures published on 22 July 2016 show 85,152 inmates housed across 134 institutions. Startlingly, 81,240 of those inside are men.
Adam Mac, 31, is currently serving life at the high security HMP Wakefield. It is known colloquially as the ‘Monster Mansion’, housing a number of high profile murderers and sex offenders.
Adam has been locked up for 16 years. At 15 he was put in a juvenile prison and then was moved to a young offender establishment. At 21, he was categorised as a C cap prisoner and subsequently was to relocate to an Open prison. However, he was wrongly transferred to the high security HM Frankland. Two years later, he found himself locked up at Wakefield.
Adam has been trying to move down the cap system. He acts as a mentor to younger prisoners, is a contributor to the prison magazine-Not Shut Up- and regularly volunteers his services to outside charities wanting to work with prisoners on the inside. Nonetheless, his efforts go unrewarded.
“Once you’re in, it is very hard to get back out of here,” he says.
As a prisoner on the inside, Adam experiences first-hand the “grim” and “dangerous conditions” outlined in Mr. Clarke’s report.
“Like any system there are those that want to do good. However there is also a lot of corruption and violence,” he says. Fuelled, Adam argues, by corrupt prison guards.
In January 2016 allegations emerged in a BBC Panorama programme of mistreatment and abuse of children at Medway secure training centre. The programme unveiled how corrupt guards repeatedly hit, taunted and physically abused the children within youth the prison. In one scene, an unrevoked guard attacks a mentally ill 14-year-old boy and places his index finger on the boy’s windpipe. The boy cries in agony, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’, as the guard continues to suffocate him.
It is brutal footage, and is just one example of the systematic in house abuse occurring inside Her Majesty’s Prisons. Exposing corruption inside adult prisons proves more difficult. However, Adam wants to blow the whistle on the UK’s toughest and most dangerous prison, HMP Wakefield.
Inside Wakefield, Adam doesn’t share a cell. The environment doesn’t lend itself to communal living. As a high security prison amenities are substandard, freedom is scarce and in-house guard corruption is rife.
“Prison guards will do anything to pose you as a security threat,” he tells me.
Consequently, as a security threat, prisoners forfeit institutional privilege. In some cases the right to parole is taken away. More severely, sentences can be prolonged.
Adam is now a ‘security threat’ at Wakefield. His classification comes after an inquiry of whether a prisoner was in the establishment.
“I went to find my friend on a different house block, I wanted to know how his parole hearing went,” he tells me.
A curt ‘no’ from the prison warden, and six months later Adam discovered the reason why he had been stripped of his monthly guitar lessons, mentor duties and small luxuries such as access to the craft department- the prison warden on duty reported him.
“The number one most frustrating part of being in a high security risk prison is the arbitrary nature of security decisions.” he says. “No one spoke to me about my behaviour. They just report it. Literally everything can be a security risk.”
Despite security crackdown, prisons are now more than ever, ‘dangerous’ and ‘toxic’ establishments. Violence has increased in almost “every men’s prison,” Mr. Clarke notes, and furthermore new synthetic drugs are a growing problem. While prison authorities maintain a hard-line stance and enforce stricter policies inside their institutions, the recent report reveals that despite these efforts, corruption and violence is rife. Something is amiss.
Former inmate Alex Cavendish lifts the lid on in-house corruption. In his 10 years inside, Alex experienced the ‘whole prison system’, moving around between six different institutions. His frequent transfers, he says, were due to the legal advice he offered other inmates. He was branded a ‘troublemaker’ by the prison guards; he asked too many questions, befriended too many prisoners and worse, questioned authority.
“The wing officers didn’t like that and they kicked me out of the prison. They threatened me. It was a scary time in my life,” he says.
Now residing in Dorset, Alex is not surprised by the 2015-2016 prison findings. He calls the system ‘corrupt’ and ‘toxic’, and amplified by corrupt prison guards.
While inside a cap B prison, Alex was sexually assaulted by a prisoner. He reported the incident to a prison guard. They did nothing. Subsequently, no action was taken against his attacker, and Alex continued to share a house block with him for two months.
“ He then robbed and assaulted another prisoner, and finally was transferred to a more secure establishment,” he says.
It is one of many examples of internal prison corruption. The most pressing, however, is the large amount of drugs being smuggled into prisons.
In May 2016 HMP Wandsworth guard, Kwaku Boakye, 59, was jailed for six years after he was caught trying to smuggle in heroin, cannabis, 18 mobile phones and 17 sim cards. He is one of ‘just many’ guards, Alex reveals, who smuggle in drugs for petty cash.
“Every type of drug is available inside: heroin, cannabis, designer drugs, and this is playing a major role in the destabilising of prisons,” Alex tells me.
His sentiments are echoed in the 2015-2016 report on HM prisons. Access and consumption of new synthetic drugs were recorded as a ‘growing problem’. The supply and misuse of synthetic cannabis such as Spice and Black Mama are causing ‘major problems in most adult male establishments’.
There is no national policy to counteract this growing problem, and Mr. Clarke begs for greater ‘national reform’ on drug abuse inside prisons. However, Alex tells me that mobile phones need to be ‘banned’ in order for drug abuse to subside. Phones and sim cards are smuggled in for prisoners by prison guards. It enables prisoners to maintain their drug empire, exploit the industry on the inside and garnish a reputation as someone not to be messed with. It is a toxic cycle, and is clearly contributing to the violent epidemic currently occurring inside.
While there has-for many years- been a lot of talk about prison reform, very little seems to have worked. In fact, the situation has only worsened.
Prisons are “unacceptably violent and dangerous places,” Chief Inspectorate of Prisons writes. Violence on the inside has risen, drug abuse has worsened, self-harm continues to increase, and mentally ill prisoners and children receive little care. Former inmate Alex, and current lifer Adam reveal an institution punctuated by prison guard corruption and exploitation. It is a toxic and dangerous environment in desperate need of positive and affirmative reform. Lifer Adam, however, doesn’t see this happening.
“The government wants prisoners to remain locked up. They don’t want us to progress and rehabilitate. They just want us to remain inside”.