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20 Oct 2020

Howard League responds to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons’ Annual Report for 2019-20

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons’ Annual Report for 2019-20, published today (Tuesday 20 October).

The report sets out the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on people living and working in prisons, but also emphasises that many challenges and weaknesses in the system will need to be addressed urgently when the immediate health crisis is over.

In particular, the Chief Inspector, Peter Clarke, highlighted the inspectorate’s thematic report about the separation of children in custody, published in January, which found that many children were being held in conditions amounting to solitary confinement.

The Howard League runs a free and confidential legal advice line for children and young adults in custody. The charity has been inundated with calls throughout the year as conditions have deteriorated during the pandemic.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This important report gets right to the heart of the tension that exists in prisons today. The extraordinary effort to contain the spread of Covid-19 has come at enormous cost, as tens of thousands of people, including children, are locked in their cells for hours on end.

“Peter Clarke is absolutely right to use his last annual report as Chief Inspector to highlight the fundamental problems already in place long before Covid-19, and which shall not go away even if the pandemic eases. Warehousing people in failing prisons simply causes more crime in the long run.

“The solution starts with taking positive steps to reduce the number of people behind bars. This would not only help to manage the spread of the virus; it would reduce crime, make our communities safer and enable more people to realise their potential.”

The Howard League has been engaged in correspondence with the government throughout the pandemic, urging ministers to ease restrictions in prisons safely to provide a decent and purposeful regime and enable people to have contact with their families.

Last week, the Howard League and the Prison Reform Trust wrote to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, calling on the Ministry of Justice to make clear the evidence it has and advice it is receiving about the risks of transmission and the different measures to contain the virus in prisons.

The letter asked the government to devise more effective schemes for early release and to commit to the continuation of additional phone credit, free video calls and access on compassionate grounds to electronic communications at governors’ discretion.

The letter called on the government to commit to the maintenance of daily provision of education and activities for children in custody along the same lines as for children in the community. It also asked for priority to be given to providing opportunities for progression to adults whose prospects of release on parole will otherwise be damaged.

The Howard League has also written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, to recommend moving away from a strategy of prison-building to one that invests in the community, to reduce crime and help more people reach their potential.

Drawing on its legal work, the Howard League has published two briefings on how the severe restrictions in prisons have affected children and young adults.

Children in prison during the Covid-19 pandemic revealed that, in most prisons, children were not receiving face-to-face education; they were receiving education sheets or worksheets under the door to be completed in their cells. One child told the Howard League that this amounted to some sheets on maths and English that took him about 25 minutes a day to complete. Another child said that his anger-management courses and art therapy had been cancelled.

The briefing showed that children were worried about their parents and elderly relatives and their inability to help them while stuck in prison. While children had been given additional phone credit, this was typically their only contact with the outside world. Difficulties in contacting families and professionals made planning for release especially problematic.

Young Adults in prison during the Covid-19 pandemic revealed that young adults were in prolonged solitary confinement. There were no face-to-face visits and no face-to-face education, and most support services had withdrawn.

The Howard League has also published a leaflet for children in custody to reassure them that their rights have not disappeared during the pandemic. Illustrated by a child in prison, the leaflet reminds children that they still have a right to education, contact with their family, and physical and mental healthcare. It stresses that they can still get support and make complaints to the prison if they feel their rights are being ignored or they are being treated differently to others. It reminds them that they are still able to apply for early release, bail or parole, and their rights to support and accommodation on release are unchanged.

The Youth Custody Service has supported the distribution of the leaflet. The Howard League has sent 1,000 copies of the leaflet to be distributed in prisons and copies have been printed and provided to children in secure training centres and secure children’s homes.

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 can be downloaded from the Howard League website.
  3. Young Adults in prison during the Covid-19 pandemic can be downloaded from the Howard League website.
  4. More information about the leaflet produced for children in custody can be found in a blogpost by Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, on the charity’s website.
  5. The letter to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, and all materials published by the Howard League in relation to the response to the Covid-19 pandemic in prisons, can be found on the charity’s website.
  6. The Howard League’s letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, can be found on the charity’s website.
  7. Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons’ Annual Report for 2019-20 can be downloaded from the Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons website.

Contact

Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955
Email: robert.preece@howardleague.org

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