Case Studies

Prisons in pandemic

by Mark Rowe

Violence, intimidation and bullying has not stopped during lockdown in prisons during the coronavirus pandemic, but has instead taken other forms, according to HM Chief Inspector of Prisons in a report, What happens to prisoners in a pandemic.

The inspectorate did interviews with more than 70 men, women and children in six prisons. Months after the introduction of restrictions, most adult prisoners were still locked in their cell for an average of 22.5 hours a day, seven days a week. Prisoners questioned the legitimacy and fairness of the continuing lack of time out of their cells. Cramped cells, often shared by two people, sometimes with an unscreened toilet and poor ventilation, predated the pandemic. Now, prisoners who shared had virtually no privacy.

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor said: “We have heard suggestions that the restrictions, and a subsequent reduction in recorded violent incidents, have made prisons safer. Clearly, with so little time out of cell prisoners had less opportunity to be violent or fight, but this was not the full picture according to those we interviewed. Prisoners said that violence, intimidation and bullying had not stopped, but had instead taken other forms. The accrual of debt persisted, and some had turned to using drugs and other unhealthy coping strategies as a way of managing their isolation and boredom.”

Inspectors described the decline in prisoners’ emotional, psychological and physical well-being as disturbing. Prisoners were chronically bored and exhausted by spending hours locked in their cells. They described being drained, depleted, lacking in purpose and sometimes resigned to their situation. Some prisoners said they were using unhealthy coping strategies, including self-harm and drugs. They frequently compared themselves to caged animals.

Mr Taylor added: “It is likely that prisoners who are released with no support to address their offending behaviour and no access to education or work will struggle to cope, potentially leading to further offending and greater strain on public services.

“To lead successful, crime-free lives when they leave custody, prisoners must change the way they feel about themselves and develop a belief that they can take control of their future. In our fieldwork we saw a sense of hopelessness and helplessness becoming engrained.

“The cumulative effect of such prolonged and severe restrictions on prisoners’ mental health and well-being is profound. The lack of support to reduce re-offending and help prisoners address their risk of serious harm to the public does not fill me with hope for the longer term.

For the full 32-page report visit the inspectorates website.


The charity the Howard League for Penal Reform says that it’s been inundated with calls from worried prisoners and their families. Frances Crook, Chief Executive, said: “This important report reveals the devastating impact that the restrictions are having on people in prison, who have spent almost a year locked inside cramped cells without purpose and without the ability to make amends.

“The mental distress caused by isolation can affect people in many different ways, some of which may not be evident for months or years. The prolonged lockdown is causing irreparable damage, and we will all suffer the consequences as prisoners come to be released without having been given the help and support they need.

“Keeping people in prison safe is more than simply protecting them from the spread of covid-19. The Howard League has been in dialogue with the government throughout the pandemic, and we have asked repeatedly for sensible changes that would ease the burden on prisons and the people living and working in them.

“It is imperative that the restrictions are eased as safely and swiftly as possible and, as we move through this public health crisis, we must begin laying the foundations for a brighter future with less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.”

Related News


Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to stay on top of security news and events.

© 2024 Professional Security Magazine. All rights reserved.

Website by MSEC Marketing