2 Jul 2020
100 Days of Solitude: The impact of coronavirus in prisons
On the 100th day since the lockdown in prisons began, the Howard League for Penal Reform has today (Thursday 2 July) called on the government to provide a decent and purposeful regime and redouble efforts to create additional ways for prisoners to have contact with families.
While coronavirus has been contained in prisons, thanks to the extraordinary efforts on the ground of people living and working in them, tens of thousands of prisoners, including children, have been forced to endure 100 days of solitude in grim conditions, spending more than 22 hours a day in their cells.
The Howard League’s legal work with children and young adults and official reports by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons have revealed a bleak picture of life during the lockdown. Children and young adults have described the stress of endless isolation, often sleeping in the day and awake through the night, worrying about their loved ones in the community with little to distract them from their thoughts.
Prisons are devoid of purposeful activity and opportunities for people to make amends. There has been no face-to-face education for most children. Therapeutic work has stopped.
Following the suspension of face-to-face visits, the implementation of video-calls to enable prisoners to stay in contact with their families is delayed and, in some prisons, non-existent. Inspectors found that some women had not seen their children for months. Even in the prisons where video-calls have got up and running, calls are short because of the time taken to escort people from their cells.
In one prison, inspectors found that men with coronavirus symptoms had been isolated in their cells without any opportunity to come out for a shower or exercise for up to 14 days.
Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The government’s lifting of the lockdown in the community from Saturday should also be a turning-point for prisons. Now is the time to end the 100 days of solitude and give purpose by beginning to ease restrictions safely.
“Ministers should do this by supporting governors, who know their prisons and the people who live in them. They asked for the technology to help families, but in too many cases that technology has been delayed or not arrived at all. They have tried to be flexible and imaginative, but the dead hand of central diktat has controlled all the detail.
“As we move through this crisis and rebuild a stronger society, we should do all we can to help people in prison to turn their lives around and move away from crime. Extending the lockdown in prisons unnecessarily, due to political expediency or a failure to put proper testing in place, will cause untold misery and store up more problems for all of us in the future.”
Notes to editors
1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
2. Children in prison during the Covid-19 pandemic: A briefing from the Howard League for Penal Reform can be downloaded from the Howard League website.
3. Young Adults in prison during the Covid-19 pandemic: A briefing from the Howard League for Penal Reform can be downloaded from the Howard League website.
4. The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Reform Trust have been engaged in detailed correspondence with the Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, over the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in prisons. The charities’ most recent letter can be viewed on the Howard League website.
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