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BRITAIN’S prison population is bearing a “heavy cost” from Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, government inspectors reveal in a report published today.
The spread of the virus has been limited in prisons by a restricted daily regime, including prolonged isolation in cells, found HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor.
But he said that the lockdown, which has seen prisoners confined to their cells for 22.5 hours a day, seven days a week, for almost a year, has caused their wellbeing to deteriorate.
And he warned of an “increased risk to society” if prisoners are released without effective rehabilitation.
More than 83,000 people are incarcerated in the UK, the highest prison population in western Europe.
Mr Taylor based HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ latest study — What Happens to Prisoners in a Pandemic? — on visits to six jails and interviews with inmates.
Mr 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.”
The Howard League for Penal Reform said that it has been “inundated with calls from worried prisoners and their families, as tens of thousands of people in prison have been held in conditions of solitary confinement.”
Chief executive Frances Crook 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 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.”
Ms Crook said that it was “imperative that the restrictions are eased as safely and swiftly as possible.”
Prison Reform Trust director Peter Dawson said that the report “shines a light on the hidden suffering” that Covid-19 has caused in prisons.
He added: “Saving lives has come at a huge price for prisoners and their families.
“For all the heroic efforts of prison managers and staff, we should remember that their task has been made harder by the overcrowded and dilapidated condition of our prisons before the pandemic began.”
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