Prison guards impose an oppressive dietary regime and refuse to allow prisoners to become vegan, says Vegan Society rights advocate | The Vegan Society

Prison guards impose an oppressive dietary regime and refuse to allow prisoners to become vegan, says Vegan Society rights advocate

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» Prison guards impose an oppressive dietary regime and refuse to allow prisoners to become vegan, says Vegan Society rights advocate

Potential breaches of human rights and an apparent lack of support for prisoners at a Suffolk prison are "serious and worrying", says Vegan Rights Advocate Dr Jeanette Rowley. 

The Mirror has reported that prison guards at HMP Warren Hill have reduced the official prison vegan population from 30 to 7 by unilaterally deciding which prisoners can be provided with a vegan diet.

According to the newspaper, prison guards have accused prisoners of pretending to be vegan and that they are “weeding out fakers” by looking at the prisoner's clothes, and monitoring what registered vegans buy from the prison shop. The report is supported by a statement made by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at HMP Warren Hill that special diet requests –"especially vegan diets" – are "carefully monitored.” This situation suggests a potentially serious breach of prisoners’ fundamental human rights and a lack of adequate support for the prisoners but the IMB does not appear to raise any concerns.

Prisons have a legal obligation to ensure prisoners' rights are not breached and they are not discriminated against. Special human rights measures are designed to strengthen protection for people deprived of their liberty and IMB representatives are subject to the Public Sector Equality Duty and have a responsibility to ensure prisoners are treated fairly and with dignity. This includes listening to their concerns and complaints, and reporting on prison standards and the potential impact on those in custody. However, despite reporting that the prison implements a policy of dissuading prisoners from adopting veganism, the IMB does not appear to have raised concern that this is a potentially coercive, oppressive, and unlawful practice imposed on vulnerable individuals. 

The Vegan Society's Vegan Rights Advocate, Dr Jeanette Rowley, explains that "veganism attracts protection in law as a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals."

In this case, prisoners, who are deprived of their liberty, can experience difficulties regarding what is possible and practical, and those who are new to veganism often need time to adjust to it. For example, prisoners may not be able to immediately replace their leather shoes or belts and so should not be accused of pretending to adopt veganism.

Dr Rowley adds: "Under human rights law 'everyone has the absolute right to adopt a belief of choice' and, in this case, 23 prisoners who registered as vegan have been denied their request to be provided with a vegan diet, forced to eat non-vegan food, and thus, denied their rights.

"This is serious and worrying. The right to be provided with a diet that aligns with one’s belief is recognised in law and prison officials are prohibited from unlawfully interfering with the rights of those who have declared and registered that they wish to eat a vegan diet.

"IMB representatives are under a duty to monitor the treatment of prisoners, support their access to rights, act on their behalf and should avoid appearing to support potentially oppressive and unlawful prison policies and practices.” 

The Vegan Society has grave concerns about the prison policy published by the Mirror and the potential failure of the IMB to recognise and address this issue as a potential serious violation of prisoner rights. Dr Rowley is currently drafting a letter, raising the society's concerns, to the IMB and the prison. Prisoners who feel prevented from adopting and manifesting veganism can submit a complaint from a form provided and obtain support from The Vegan Society. Those concerned on a prisoner's behalf can email knowyourrights[at]vegansociety[dot]com.


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