United Kingdom: UN expert raises alarm over abuse of Close Supervision Centres

Geneva, May 10, 2021.- A UN human rights expert* today raised concerns about the holding of prisoners for prolonged or indefinite periods in isolation in restrictive control units, known as Close Supervision Centres (CSC), calling on the British Government to review and regulate their use.

“The decision-making process is reportedly not transparent, the segregation period is not delimited, the procedure for reintegration back into the general prison population is not clear and the conditions of detention are comparable to solitary confinement,” said Nils Melzer, the Special Rapporteur on torture.

He said the use of CSC’s runs contrary to the absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and risks amounting to arbitrary detention.

CSC’s were first introduced in 1998 to remove the most seriously disruptive prisoners from the general prison population following an individual risk assessment.

Mr. Kevin Thakrar, a life sentence prisoner has been kept in CSC units since March 2010, from the age of 23. He was placed in a CSC already prior to his criminal conviction. When his status was reviewed in May 2012 by the CSC Management Committee, he was permitted to make a written submission through legal counsel, but was not personally present and was not permitted to challenge the conclusions.

Mr. Thakrar’s case is emblematic for an established system of prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement. According to the expert, “for the past 11 years, he is being held alone in a cell for more than 22 hours a day, is not permitted to participate in regular prison activities, receives his food through a hatch, and does not even have a privacy screen when using the toilet inside his cell”.

Prisons reportedly receive additional funds of GBP100,000 annually per inmate held in CSC, which is considerably more than the cost per prisoner held in general population. “I am seriously concerned that this creates a misguided financial incentive for sending prisoners to CSCs and keeping them there, and it casts doubt on the claim that these decisions are based exclusively on an individualized risk assessment,” he said.

Melzer emphasised that conditions of detention must always respect the dignity and human rights of persons deprived of their liberty.

“Physical and social isolation for prolonged periods may cause severe mental and physical pain or suffering. When used for more than 15 consecutive days, these conditions of detention amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and, therefore, are neither legitimate nor lawful,” he said.

Melzer urged the United Kingdom to “review Close Supervision Centres independently in order to establish adequate safeguards and limit their use”.

According to the expert, these concerns have been raised directly with the Government and regrettably, so far, the United Kingdom has not provided any response. He will continue to monitor the situation.


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