Prisoners at HMP Maidstone have not received any contact since lockdown, according to a prison inspection looking at three category C jails which found inmates spent no more than an hour each day out of their cells. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons is conducting a series of ‘short scrutiny’ spot checks in response to concerns about the treatment of prisoners during the pandemic. In its latest, inspectors looked at Maidstone in Kent which holds foreign prisoners as well as 19 immigration detainees, Onley near Rugby, and Brinsford near Wolverhampton mainly for young adults aged 18–21 years.
Prisoners were ‘desperate’ to hear about restrictions being eased but governors were unable to provide any reassurance, according to the report. ‘Staff and prisoners were becoming concerned about the impact that such a prolonged restricted regime was having on prisoners’ well-being,’ the inspectors noted; adding that there were ‘no systematic welfare checks’ in place at Onley or Maidstone. ‘At Maidstone, some prisoners had had no recorded contact at all since lockdown began,’ they added. Maidstone’s foreign national population ‘faced additional anxiety about their immigration status’ after a number of agencies including Citizens Advice had stopped attending. The number of prison listeners would ‘soon reduce to a problematic low level’, said inspectors. There had been once self-inflicted death at Maidstone during lockdown and the number of prisoners receiving support under assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) case management for prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm had begun to increase.
Only two prisoners had been released across the three prisons as a result of the government’s COVID early release scheme. At Onley, 19 prisoners had been symptomatic or tested positive; at Brinsford, five prisoners had tested positive reasonably early in the pandemic; and only one prisoner had tested positive at Maidstone.
‘For the last 12 weeks, most prisoners had spent at least 23 hours locked up each day. Time unlocked varied across the three sites. At Onley, most prisoners consistently received an hour out of their cells each day to exercise and shower. At Maidstone it ranged between 30 and 50 minutes and at Brinsford it could also be as little as 30 minutes. Some prisoners described feelings of isolation and believed their mental and emotional well-being was suffering as a result. Governors recognised that the current position was unsustainable but believed they had no autonomy to increase time out of cell, even though they felt they had sufficient staff and had contained the spread of COVID-19. They could offer prisoners no reassurance about when the current restrictions would be eased.’
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons