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Frances Crook's blog · 5 Jan 2021

The new lockdown announcement will bring desolation to prisons

Frances Crook in front of office bookshelves

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.

Comments

  • Glenn Hoe says:

    IPP

  • Glenn Hoe says:

    My partner IPP on recall for a breach now been 9 months yet no set date with parole board. But a breach is now a criminal offence. She severed 5 years and then 6 more IPP, she lived for 5 years and caused no trouble at all, but a breach because she helped a friend.

  • Rosie Dowbekin says:

    Your efforts are greatly appreciated. My husband is 70 and has a history of cancer. He is confined in a cell so small it is hard to even move about. He has become so stiff during the long hours in cell. He can’t even see out unless he stands on a chair on tip-toes. Purple Visits do not work due to poor WiFi at the prison. I have only seen him once since last March. 95 men on his wing (including him) have so far had COVID.

  • Jane says:

    Thank you so much for seeing these issues Francis. I know that all this is so true as I’ve experienced it first hand. If we don’t want re offending then we must do something, being treated like this can make a person give up and have an I don’t care attitude and possibly do worse crimes. We all mess up in life and some because life has never started because of poor quality of life at the start of their lives so please please don’t just throw prisoners away, build them up.

  • Linda G says:

    Re early release please ask the minister how Scotland has managed to achieve more than England? i.e. 348 out of 445 eligible for early release were released(The following link refers. ER Tranche 3 Report – Tables (sps.gov.uk)
    How is it Scotland can do this while England made so little effort, then in August 2020 pressed a ‘pause button’.?
    When in England this is combined with
    • poor access to a shared phone on the wing – and
    • video visits which, welcome though these can be, have poor signals such that the visits have to be aborted
    the pressure on prisoners, whether they have long sentences still to serve or are coming near to release, are so much greater than in pre-Covid times. An 8 minute allocation on the wing phone (shared by dozens of prisoners- how can that be safe?) makes for rushed and poorly understood exchanges about the important preparations they need to make with family members or volunteers to prepare for release when their sentence has been served.
    In Scotland almost every prisoner (currently about 7500) now has a mobile phone with pin number and 310 minutes credit per month? This makes for a very significant release of the mental pressures on prisoners locked up 23.25 out of 24 hours the vast majority with no support through visits – virtual or otherwise! Also, to their families!
    See https://news.stv.tv/scotland/thousands-of-lifeline-virtual-prison-visits-during-pandemic?top
    5284 calls out of over 500,000 calls were made to Samaritans – a vital life-line therefore!

  • Kath Kelly says:

    Need to stop recalls they have already be punished and served there time and release the remaining ipps fail to understand how on gods earth can you keep punishing someone for same crime especially when SENTENCED on lies .

  • J Roden says:

    I genuinely hope that the minister listens and gets the message across to the prisons. Really important that time outside and exercise is permitted regularly and frequently. With no work or training, all prisoners are desperate for something to do.
    Would also ask for confirmation that even if prisoners aren’t that prison staff at least are a priority for vaccination. New variant attacks younger people and is very debilitating so prisoners need to be protected

  • Pamela Taylor says:

    and we must, must, must ask for prison staff to be treated as front line workers for immunisation purposes.
    Personally, I think prisoners also ought to be fairly high on the priority list as institutionalised persons. Many also have underlying health problems relevant to poor prognosis, At least the latter group should be immunised early.

  • Gillian Griffiths says:

    I pray that this does not fall on deaf ears , my grandson is being kept in a single cell allowed out once a day for 15 minutes for either a shower or excercise . He hates being alone he is a social person an this isolation is so horrific , I actually live in fear daily of the effect an damage this is going to inflict on him for the rest of his life.
    He took the wrong road an made a mistake for which he has paid the price , on sentencing the judge said he would be sent to a YO prison with training courses an rehabilitation.I wonder if that judge really knew where he would be an what would happen if his sentence would be the same ??
    He has 6 months left which will cost the taxpayers an has no advantage or gain he has had no rehabilitation no anything he has served 2 years .
    Send him home where his family can support an help him before the system does more harm than good .His lesson has been learnt he has been punished

  • Francis Boylan says:

    I fully concur with all your comments, particularly the call for better food, but really wonder what can be done with the present allowance – doubt if it is possible to feed a cat on that sum of money!

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