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11 Feb 2021

Howard League responds to report on impact of Covid-19 restrictions in prison

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report, What happens to prisoners in a pandemic?, published today (Thursday 11 February).

The report, which draws on in-depth interviews with more than 70 men, women and children in six prisons, warns that, while restrictions imposed in prisons have limited the spread of Covid-19, there has been a “heavy cost” as the well-being of people in prison has deteriorated.

Throughout the pandemic, the Howard League 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.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, 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 mental distress caused by isolation can affect people in many different ways, some of which may not be evident for months or years. 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.

“Keeping people in prison safe is more than simply protecting them from the spread of Covid-19. The Howard League has been in dialogue with the government throughout the pandemic, and we have asked repeatedly for sensible changes that would ease the burden on prisons and the people living and working in them.

“It is imperative that the restrictions are eased as safely and swiftly as possible and, as we move through this public health crisis, we must begin laying the foundations for a brighter future with less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.”

The inspectorate’s findings echo many of the issues that emerged from two briefings published by the Howard League last year, which drew on the charity’s legal work with children and young adults during the early stages of the pandemic.

The briefings showed how most children and young adults in prison were experiencing a severely restricted regime. At the time, most children were not receiving face-to-face education; they were receiving education sheets or worksheets under the door to be completed in their cells.

The Howard League also produced a leaflet to help children understand their rights during the pandemic. The charity sent 1,000 copies of the leaflet to be distributed in prisons, and copies were also printed and provided to children in secure training centres and secure children’s homes.

Illustrated by a child in prison, the leaflet reminded children that they still had a right to education, contact with their family, and physical and mental healthcare. It informed children that they could still get support and make complaints to the prison if they felt their rights were being ignored or they were being treated differently to others.

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. More information about the work of the Howard League legal team can be found on the charity’s website.
  3. Children in prison during the Covid-19 pandemic, a briefing by the Howard League, can be downloaded from the charity’s website.
  4. Young Adults in prison during the Covid-19 pandemic, a briefing by the Howard League, can be downloaded from the charity’s website.
  5. A copy of the report, What happens to prisoners in a pandemic?, will be available from Thursday 11 February on the Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons website.


Rob Preece
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