Prisoners – and the children of prisoners in public custody – are at “real risk” of psychological decline if severe pandemic lockdown measures are reintroduced in prisons, the prison watchdog has warned.
The roll-out of “virtual” technology – such as Zoom and Skype – that is now commonplace across workplaces is also yet to be typical in prisons but could help to improve inmates’ mental health.
Peter Clarke, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that if there is a resurgence of the virus, the Prison Service should not simply reimpose the strict limitations it did when “lockdown” was ordered across the country as a whole.
Doing so could led to a serious decline in the mental health of a broad spectrum of prisoners in different settings, he said.
Clarke’s comments – in an official report – follow the publication this week of Office for National Statistics figures which show that one in five individuals across the wider country as a whole has suffered some form of depression during the pandemic lockdown.
Concerns across prisons led to a strict regime which saw prisoners spend increased time in cells, segregation and a ban on all visits.
Public health officials have said they will need to remain in place until April next year.
The Prison Service is trying to move into a phase which will see those restrictions relaxed in a “slow and incremental” way.
But publishing a review on prison visits during the pandemic, Clarke said: “In prisons, there is now a real risk of psychological decline among prisoners, which needs to be addressed urgently, so that prisoners, children and detainees do not suffer long-term damage to their mental health and wellbeing, and prisons can fulfil their rehabilitative goals.”
Prisons should do more to give prisoners access to technological solutions that could give them more access to “virtual visits” and “virtual” attendance on funerals of loved ones taking place outside of prison.
The issues are especially pressing fo children in public sector custody, who have lost access to special services and face-to-face education, and for some exceptionally vulnerable individuals in women’s prisons.