Howard League blog · 5 Jan 2021
The new lockdown announcement will bring desolation to prisons
The last ten months have been extremely difficult for all of us, and my heart goes out to the families who have lost a loved one. It has, of course, been particularly awful for prisoners and challenging for prison staff.
The prospect of more months locked in a small cell, either alone or crammed into a cell designated for one person but forced to share with someone else, is terrible. This, my first blog of the new year, is bleak.
There seems to be evidence that during the initial lockdown, good communication from governors helped prisoners to join with the rest of the community in understanding that to a certain extent we were all in it together and we had to go through the isolation for a limited time.
The closure of the courts meant fewer people sent into jails on short sentences or remand and as releases continued, the number of men, women and children in prison started to go down. Additional single cell accommodation was dropped into some prisons. The result was an easing of overcrowding – not its eradication, but an easing of the pressure.
We have asked for early release to be increased, better support for people on release, every effort inside prisons to get people at least one hour outdoor walking or exercise a day, investment in healthier food, and as much activity and contact with staff as can safely be delivered
The number of people dying in prison by their own hand went down. It was still happening, but not in anything like the number that we had seen before. Self-injury appeared to reduce too, possibly because isolation was preferable to the uncontrolled violence that had been daily life.
I don’t think this is tenable. Before Christmas the rate of self-injury appeared to be creeping up and people are taking their own lives by suicide. The new announcement will bring desolation to prisons. The prospect of sitting in a cell for months to come, with nothing to do but watch television, having not seen family for almost a year, little exercise or purpose and hardly any social interaction, will be devastating.
I am really worried. I have a conversation booked with the Minister this week and I will tell her this. We have asked for early release to be increased, better support for people on release, every effort inside prisons to get people at least one hour outdoor walking or exercise a day, investment in healthier food, and as much activity and contact with staff as can safely be delivered. It is not acceptable, it is not safe, to lock people up all day. The consequences will be catastrophic.