The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), in a new report, highlights deleterious effects of chronic overcrowding and poor living conditions in prisons across Britain.

The report published by the CPT following a targeted visit to the country in June 2021 notes that the underlying structural causes of overcrowding and violence in prison have not been addressed. Since 2016, these long-standing problems have been exacerbated by a significant escalation in levels of violence, it said.

As regards violence, the report notes that it remains prevalent in all the male adult prisons visited and would no doubt be a lot higher were prisoners not confined to their cells for most of the day.

In the prisons visited, the CPT delegation found that the vast majority of prisoners continued to be locked up in their cells for up to 23 hours a day.


Further, the report cautions that a high proportion of front-line custodial staff have never seen prisons operating under normal circumstances.

It stressed the need for UK authorities to prevent a new outburst of violent attacks and to guarantee the safety of both prisoners and staff. 

The CPT found that the number of self-harm incidents among women had increased sharply during the pandemic with potentially high lethality incidents involving the frequent use of ligatures. In some cases, prisoners were able to use the same ligature method on multiple occasions within a matter of hours.

The Bronzefield Prison which the team visited was accommodating a number of women with severe mental disorders who could not be provided with adequate care in a prison, it said.

In July 2021, a UN human rights expert said that dozens of people were being held in prison units in England and Wales in conditions that may amount to torture. 

Close supervision centers (CSCs) across Britain hold some of the most dangerous men in the prison system in small, highly supervised units within high-security jails.

Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture, then raised concerns that authorities exposed inmates to prolonged and indefinite periods of isolation, while human rights groups previously described CSCs as akin to “cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.”

Following a targeted visit to the country in 2019, the CPT had also said that the United Kingdom’s prison system was in deep crisis.

In May 2019, the UK faced UN scrutiny for its record on torture and ill-treatment at home and abroad. The UN Committee against Torture, the expert body that monitors implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, met in the Swiss city of Geneva to examine the UK’s record.

It was the first such UN review since the Intelligence and Security Committee’s reports exposed shocking new details of UK complicity in torture and rendition abroad, with UK agencies more deeply and systematically involved in the U.S.’s “extraordinary rendition” program than had previously been publicly known. (