Series 4 Factsheets
The Punishment Block & The Prison Canteen
The Punishment Block
Yvonne's escape attempt has failed and she is now in the punishment block (sometimes referred to as 'The Block' or ' The Seg.' (segregation unit). Foiled escape attempts can be dealt with either by calling in the police, in which case the prisoner can be charged and taken to an outside court and may get a further prison sentence if found guilty, or through the internal prison disciplinary system. In any event she would be likely to be kept in the segregation unit during the investigation.
While she is in the segregation unit Yvonne, like most prisoners, has a lonely and isolating time. Although the policy is to provide as full a regime as possible, the prison staff are instructed to balance the needs of the individual against the need to maintain good order and discipline, and the needs of others. This usually means that prisoners in the seg. are not able to work, attend education, or associate with other prisoners. Sometimes it means that they don't even get to exercise in the open air, but are locked up on their own in their cells almost all the time. They do have the right of access to the Board of Visitors (independent people who have a 'watchdog' role in the prison) and the duty Governor and they must be seen at least once every three days by the prison chaplain and medical officer. If the medical officer thinks they are not fit to be segregated (and this is likely to be about their mental state) then they must be relocated onto normal location or the hospital.
The Prison Canteen
If you have watched the episode you will know that the prison canteen is not another name for the serving hatch and dining area, but is actually the shop where prisoners can buy necessities and luxuries from their earnings and private cash (money they have brought in with them or have had sent in by friends or relatives).
Many prisoners don't have private cash and rely on their earnings, and with the current minimum employed rate at £4 per week, the rate for the unemployed and short term sick at only £2.50 per week, prices are very important. Some prisoners do earn more than this - some prisons even run services or workshops for outside companies and prisoners are paid high enough wages to save for release and contribute to Victim Support - but the majority do not. In many prisons there is not enough work for everyone and many prisoners rely on the £2.50 unemployed rate.
Goods on sale at the prison canteen include phone cards and stamps, tobacco and cigarette papers, toiletries, chocolate, biscuits and other food. Prisoners who smoke, but also want to be able to phone their families, buy shampoo and skin cream obviously have hard choices to make, particularly if they are on unemployed or minimum wages. Another issue is the range of goods available. Black women in particular have often found it difficult to get suitable skin and hair care products through the prison canteen, or if they are available they seem to be very expensive.
In some prisons prisoners go to the canteen and order what they want, but at others they have to fill in a sheet to order and the goods are then delivered to them in a sealed bag. Pre-ordering means staff don't have to spend time escorting prisoners to and from the canteen, and also cuts down on muggings on the way back from the canteen which have been a problem at some prisons. On the other hand prisoners often complain of mistakes being made in their orders on the bagged system.
Some prison canteens are run by the prison, but a number have now been privatized and it does seem that prices become more of an issue in these cases. Even a 2p rise on a packet of cigarette papers becomes far more significant on such low wages. Prisoner committees at a number of prisons have protested about the rises. Many of the privatized canteens are run by large companies rather than individuals. Prisoners obviously have no choice about where they shop.
For further information on the issues covered in this section, please visit The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies website.