This thematic review by HM Inspectorate of Prisons explores the effects of the restrictions introduced in prisons during 2020 in response to COVID-19.

The inspectorate interviewed men, women and children living on standard residential units who had not been able to attend work or education and had typically spent more than 22 hours a day in their cells since March 2020.

They found that the most disturbing effect of the restrictions was the decline in prisoners’ emotional, psychological and physical well-being.

What prisoners told them calls into question whether the right balance had been achieved between managing the risk posed by COVID-19 and providing them with enough meaningful activity, engagement and time out of cell.

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, commented:

‘The cumulative effect of such prolonged and severe restrictions on prisoners’ mental health and well-being is profound. The lack of support to reduce reoffending and help prisoners address their risk of serious harm to the public does not fill me with hope for the longer term […] Locking prisoners up in prolonged isolation has never been a feature of a healthy prison.’

Read the full report: What happens to prisoners in a pandemic? (PDF) (686 kB)