Short Update: Independent Monitoring Boards highlights damaging impact of lockdown on UK prisons

Article by Fair Trials

In its 2019/2020 report on the state of prisons, Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB) has highlighted the damaging impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on prisons in England and Wales. Some positive effects were observed, such as an increased number of staff, improved prison regimes and healthcare provision and increased focus on drug prevention in prisons. However, their concerns included:

  • Significant concerns about safety, with rises in both self-harm and violence in many prisons, often driven by drugs and debt;
  • Many boards reported that the key worker system, rolled out with high hopes, had deteriorated after its initial introduction; and it has still not been introduced in the women’s estate in spite of the obvious need.

In its report the IMB concludes that there is evidence of stabilisation and some progress. This was particularly observed in prisons that came under the spotlight of critical public or ministerial attention, where a combination of increased resources, decreased population and new management led to measurable improvements. However, the report also shows that the prison system as a whole remained very tightly stretched, with many establishments struggling to maintain or embed improvements, even before the regime shutdown during the COVID emergency.

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