Within UK Law, the Court applies a ‘deprivation of freedom’ order to an individual deemed ‘guilty’ of a crime. This is more commonly referred to as a ‘sentence’ – with the punishment being a certain length of time whereby an inmate is no longer permitted to ‘move around freely’ in the outside world. It is also the case that political and civil rights are suspended for the duration of the ‘sentence’ – with the inmate then being subject to the rules and regulations governing prisons, and any ‘privileges’ granted by order of the Governor. Being ‘in prison’, therefore, is NOT the punishment, but the place where a person is placed whilst the allotted time of any given sentence is served. It is the ‘deprivation of freedom’ which is the lawful punishment – and not the imprisonment.
This is an important legal reality, as the manner in which an inmate is treated whilst incarcerated is provided for by laws which exist to protect his or her dignity, health and rehabilitation. If an inmate experiences any further suffering in prison (because the regulations are not being followed properly), then this treatment amounts to ‘illegal’ punishment and can also constitute ‘torture’. A prison in the UK is a place of constructive engagement, education and reform – it is not a place where further (illegal) punishment is to take place. A major problem in monitoring this system is the ‘secrecy’ with which the British government ‘shields’ the prison service. Inmates are completely cut-off from society with all their telephone-calls and letters (in and out) monitored. Due to years of budget cuts, the education and medical departments are now very basic, with prison staff actively preventing inmates from accessing either to save resources and money. (A hindering process similar to how NHS GPs now treat local people who are very ill and trying to access Consultants).
Prison is a stark and austere living-space and is intimidating even for a young person to consider and/or face. Although standards of civility, resources and cleanliness differ considerably throughout the UK, and given that there are now over 70,000 men and women serving sentences within UK prisons, the chances of receiving good (or even ‘adequate’) treatment are slim. Aravindan Balakrishnan is now over 80-years-old and he has been held in the UK prison system now for at least five-years. Not only is his advanced age a very real concern for those who know and support him, but he has been locked-up in the British prison system during the Covid19 pandemic (which has spread through inmate and prison staff populations at an alarming rate)! Prisons (and prison staff) are not known for their sense of humanity, adaptability or solidarity! Prison officers are trained to be ‘suspicious’ of all change and to slavishly adhere to outdated and outmoded systems of administration, command and control. These are terrible conditions for the average inmate to be entrapped within, but how much more difficult must it be for a person of advanced age?