Inside Time Articles

Ryan Harman, PRT's advice and information service manager, writes a regular column for the prison newspaper Inside Time, you can read his articles here.

Decency and toiletries
01/03/2017 00:01:00 by Ryan Harman

Amongst the Butler Trust Award for 2016-17 one winner particularly jumped out to us in refreshing contrast to some of the complaints we receive. Karl Brocklehurst, officer at HMP Risley, has set up a ‘Room Ready’ service to resolve the issue of people arriving in prison to dirty, damaged and poorly equipped cells. It sees teams of trained and dedicated prisoners preparing rooms for new arrivals after they have been vacated by the last occupant; making sure that they get a deep clean, removing graffiti and fixing any fault, painting walls and floors if needed, and checking that emergency bells and other equipment works. They also make sure that rooms have full facilities including bedding and a washbag of toiletries. Not only is this an effective solution to a common problem in prison, it is also a recognition of the importance of dignity and basic decency for prisoners.

It is therefore a real shame when it seems that in some prisons, people are having difficulty getting the basics. Over the last few months we have received a handful of enquiries relating to access to hygiene items, and in particular toilet rolls. We have heard from people who say staff have limited them to one or two toilet rolls per week and have refused to provide more if this is not enough – instead saying that any additional toilet paper should be purchased on the canteen in advance. These challenges were echoed by a letter to the Inside Time mailbag which reported a whole wing without toilet paper for 4 days! 

Estimating and limiting how much toilet paper a person may use in a week seems an unnecessary and intrusive approach. Let’s not forget that for many people in prison items like toilet paper have multiple purposes, often used as a general cleaning tool to deal with spillages and generally keep surfaces clean in cells. This is even more the case if other cleaning items are difficult to obtain. 

The rules on this are very simple and clearly set out in the legislation covering treatment of people in prison. Prison rule 28 states that ‘every prisoner shall be provided with toilet articles necessary for his health and cleanliness, which shall be replaced as necessary.’  

This is pretty clear. If someone needs toilet paper it should be provided. It can be degrading enough to have to ask for basic toiletries such as this, without then being refused. 

This breakdown in common sense and decency is concerning given the government’s intention to reduce some of the detail in the current collection of prison service instructions which set out how a prison should be run. Although there are likely benefits to reducing the vast amounts of regulation prisons need to follow and giving governors some freedom to innovate, this clearly demonstrates that you cannot always rely on sensible decisions being made. Some minimum standards are clearly necessary. 

Crucially, as the Room Ready service at HMP Risley acknowledges, if you treat people in prison with decency, then that is what you will get back. 

You can contact the Prison Reform Trust’s advice team at FREEPOST ND6125 London EC1B 1PN. Our free information line is open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday 3.30-5.30. The number is 0808 802 0060 and does not need to be put on your pin.