Sunday, 20 Sep 2020

Coronavirus: Female prisoner urges UN Human Rights Council to intervene over ‘horrific’ lockdown treatment

A female prisoner is calling on the UN Human Rights Council to step in over claims the UK government’s coronavirus measures are putting women behind bars at risk.

The inmate at HMP Downview in Surrey claims that being locked in a single cell for 23 hours a day with no access to soap or hand sanitiser is a breach of her human rights.

She suffers from asthma, high blood pressure and depression and says she is being denied the medication she needs.

The 58-year-old, who does not want to be named, was sentenced to 18 months for fraud on 3 March and has been unable to see her husband and two children since lockdown began.

He is petitioning the UNHCR to intervene in her case over claims non-violent, vulnerable prisoners are being put at risk by the government’s approach to the COVID-19 crisis and should be granted early release as compensation for their “horrific” conditions.

The 63-year-old, of Kings Langley, Hertfordshire, told Sky News: “She phones me almost every day. It’s incredibly distressing to hear what’s happening. I feel absolutely helpless.”

He says that under the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), her right to life and right not to suffer torture, cruel, inhumane or degreading treatment have been violated.

The prisoner was convicted of fraud after stealing more than £500,000 from her boss to feed her gambling addiction.

Her husband argues that she is non-violent and her probation officer says she is “low risk”.

He believes “at risk” prisoners like her should be added to the list of 4,000 with less than two months left of their sentence who are eligible for early release during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ministry of Justice has only released 81 out of those 4,000 so far and just 14 out of a possible 86 pregnant women who also meet the criteria, according to Carl Buckley – the prison law barrister who drafted the UNCHR petition.

The woman’s husband said: “She isn’t getting her blood pressure checked, which could be life-threatening – she could have a stroke.

“They couldn’t give her prozac for her depression, so they gave her something else which hasn’t worked. She’s having to try to wean herself off of that.

“Being locked up for that long with depression and little-to-no medical care is affecting her mental health. It’s inhumane.”

He said she also suffers from hot flushes as a result of the menopause, dental problems and constant headaches, which were being investigated before lockdown cancelled her scans.

The supermarket cashier, who is working seven days a week to support his family, added: “It’s not just her, why do none of these vulnerable women prisoners have medical help? Why are they being locked up 23 hours a day?”

“They’ve done wrong, but they don’t deserve this.”

Mr Buckley added: “The government’s answer to the ongoing pandemic is to hold vast swathes of the prison population in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day.

“This wholly inappropriate response fails to consider the physical and mental health concerns of all vulnerable inmates and amounts to discriminatory practices.

“There are a significant number of inmates who do not pose any risk and who could be appropriately released, yet there appears to be a refusal or reluctance to do so.”

If the UNHCR accepts the petition, which comes after several prison reform groups tried and failed to get a judicial review, they will seek a response from the government.

Sky News has contacted the Ministry of Justice for comment.

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