Prisoners have been locked in their cells for almost 23 hours a day
Prisoners have been locked in their cells for almost 23 hours A DAY every day of the week during pandemic, watchdog report reveals after 71 inmates died of Covid
- Chief Inspector of Prisons warned inmates may be missing out on rehabilitation
- But government says strategy is working and helping to control spread of Covid
- Data shows 71 prisoners have died after testing positive for the virus since March
- Compares to earlier warnings that 2,000 prisoners could lose their lives to virus
‘Chronically bored’ prisoners have been locked up in their cells for almost 23 hours a day every day of the week since March to avoid Covid spreading in jails.
The statistics for prisons in England and Wales prompted the Chief Inspector of Prisons to warn that inmates are missing out of rehabilitation work and may be more likely to offend when they are released.
But official Ministry of Justice Covid data suggests the strategy may be working, as 71 prisoners have died after testing positive for the virus since March compared to previous predictions that 2,000 could lose their lives.
A total of 24 inmates died after testing positive in December 2020 – the highest figure of the pandemic. Around 6,000 positive tests have been recorded since March.
Figures for deaths and positive cases are not yet out for January but they are forecast to be lower. Vaccines are being administered in prisons, with the oldest age-groups prioritised under the same criteria as the national rollout.
So far 71 prisoners have died after testing positive for the virus since March compared to previous predictions that 2,000 could lose their lives
Around 6,000 positive tests have been recorded since March. This graph shows the cumulative total for each month
Prison visits are still banned, although inmates can speak to family and friends over Zoom.
Thousands of inmates on short sentences were released early during the pandemic in a bid to reduce overcrowding.
Additional Covid control measures include routinely testing staff and new prisoners, and requiring anyone showing symptoms to self-isolate for ten days.
Prisons minister Lucy Frazer said the action taken had ‘significantly limited the spread of the virus’, adding: ‘We know these necessary measures have come at a cost, so we continue to support prisoners with their wellbeing and rehabilitation through vital family contact, education, work and exercise.’
However, Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor warned that the effect of the ‘prolonged’ measures to contain the pandemic and the ‘lack of support to reduce reoffending’ could have long-term consequences and put the public at risk of ‘serious harm’.
He wrote in the Telegraph: ‘With such limited opportunities to get the training, education and skills that they need to turn their lives around, there is a danger that many will reoffend.
‘That means more victims of crime, anti-social behaviour, violence and drug dealing.
‘When people leave prison we want them to stop committing offences, to get jobs, pay taxes and take care of their families, but if we do not offer them opportunities to change, then many will too easily slip back into their old habits.
Pop paedo Gary Glitter, 76, is one of a host of elderly prisoners ‘given Covid jab before guards and victims’
Gary Glitter in a police mugshot
Paedophile pop star Gary Glitter has reportedly had a coronavirus jab before his victims and the prison officers who are guarding him have had theirs.
Glitter, 76, was reportedly among a host of elderly sex offenders who were given a vaccine last week at HMP The Verne, in Portland, Dorset.
Sources told The Sun that the prisoners were not being prioritised ahead of the general public or ordinary elderly Britons.
People aged over 70 and those with pre-existing conditions should be among the first to get a jab, according to official guidelines.
The inspector’s findings, based on analysis of interviews with 72 men, women and children in six prisons between September 30 and November 5, said the spread of Covid-19 was limited in prisons by a restricted daily regime which included long periods of time locked in cells and, as a result, predictions that thousands of people could die behind bars did not materialise.
But this came at a ‘heavy cost’ to the wellbeing of prisoners, many of whom had been locked in cells for 22.5 hours a day on average for months, Mr Taylor said.
Many likened their daily lives to the 1993 film Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray, with some saying they were ‘sleeping’ away their sentences.
A sense of ‘hopelessness and helplessness’ was becoming ingrained and some were ‘chronically bored’, Mr Taylor said.
He added: ‘The cumulative effect of such prolonged and severe restrictions on prisoners’ mental health and wellbeing 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.
‘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.’
The report raised questions as to whether the prison service struck the right balance between battling coronavirus and providing prisoners with enough time out of cells and activities to focus on.
It also urged action to make sure jails were ready to reinstate such programmes as soon as it was safe to do so.
Mr Taylor said he had heard suggestions that the restrictions, and a subsequent reduction in recorded violent incidents, had made prisons safer.
Thousands of inmates on short sentences were released early during the pandemic in a bid to reduce overcrowding. Pictured is an undated file photo of Wandsworth prison
‘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.’
On Wednesday at Canterbury Crown Court, defence barrister Oliver Kirk described poor prison conditions amid the pandemic as he argued gambling addict Nicole Elkabbas should not be jailed for pretending to have cancer and spending more than £45,000 in donations from well-wishers.
Judge Mark Weekes handed her a two-year-and-nine-month sentence.
The Ministry of Justice said the wellbeing of prisoners has been made a priority and rehabilitation work has been moved into cells where possible.
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