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5 Apr 2023

Howard League responds to thematic review on weekends in prison

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ thematic review on weekends in prison, published today (Wednesday 5 April).

A report shows that access to education, employment, exercise or time out of cell are the worst they have ever been, and significantly poorer at weekends.

Inspectors visited 11 adult prisons on Saturdays and Sundays, and found that most people were spending at least 21 hours a day locked in their cells at the weekend.

In a survey of over 6,000 people in prison in 2022-2023, 60 per cent of men said that they spent less than two hours out of their cell on a typical Saturday or Sunday – more than double the proportion seen in the year before the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the women’s estate, the post-pandemic deterioration is even more stark, with women four times more likely to say they received less than two hours out of cell at weekends.

Inspectors found that people in prison were unable to complete essential domestic tasks such as showering and cleaning, and that libraries were closed over weekends. Even when unlocked, recreational equipment was broken and there were too few activities to constructively engage prisoners.

Most concerningly, people in prison said that their mental health and wellbeing were impacted by the combined effects of severely limited time out of cells on both weekdays and weekends. Those struggling had few opportunities to get the attention of prison staff.

The inspectorate’s findings come only a week after a report from the Children’s Commissioner for England showed that children in custody were spending as little as 30 minutes per day outside their cells at weekends.

Rob Preece, Communications Manager at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Weekends are a time to look forward to for most people, but not for people in prison – children as well as adults – who are being forced to tolerate conditions even worse than the grim provisions seen from Monday to Friday.

“Prisons should do all that they can to engage people in activities that will help them to move on from crime and look ahead to a positive future. The reality, however, is that people cannot even take a shower or get fresh air, let alone get to the library.

“With inspectors rightly pointing to the adverse impact these conditions have on mental health and well-being, it is vital that staff are given the support they need to get people involved in exercise, education, work and training. Unfortunately, this challenge will become even harder if the government presses ahead with its plans to expand the prison system.”

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. The thematic review of weekends in prison is available on the His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons website at:
  3. Family contact in youth custody, a report by the Children’s Commissioner for England, is available on the Commissioner’s website at:


Noor Khan

Press and Public Affairs Officer

Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7873




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