What happens to prisoners in a pandemic?

Updated 10th February 2021, HM Inspectorate of Prisons writes

This thematic review explores the effects of the restrictions introduced in prisons during 2020 in response to COVID-19.

Read the full report: What happens to prisoners in a pandemic? (PDF) (686 kB)

We interviewed men, women and children living on standard residential units who had not been able to attend work or education and had typically spent more than 22 hours a day in their cells since March 2020.

We found that the most disturbing effect of the restrictions was the decline in prisoners’ emotional, psychological and physical well-being.

What prisoners told us calls into question whether the right balance had been achieved between managing the risk posed by COVID-19 and providing them with enough meaningful activity, engagement and time out of cell.

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, commented:

The cumulative effect of such prolonged and severe restrictions on prisoners’ mental health and well-being is profound. The lack of support to reduce reoffending and help prisoners address their risk of serious harm to the public does not fill me with hope for the longer term […] Locking prisoners up in prolonged isolation has never been a feature of a healthy prison.

What did prisoners tell us?

They said they were chronically bored and exhausted by spending hours locked in their cells.

They told us that their physical and mental health were declining.

They missed contact with their friends and families.

They said that violence, bullying and intimidation had not gone away, and that they continued to feel unsafe.

They discussed how their limited time out of cell could be further reduced.

They reported that help with rehabilitation and release planning was limited.

Read original posting including podcasts of prisoner interviews at the Inspectorate’s Web Site