A prisoner with mobility issues had not showered for seven months as a result of coronavirus restrictions imposed at a Sodexo private prison. Prison inspectors reported prisoners with symptoms of coronavirus at HMP Northumberland were locked up for 24 hours a day for up to eight days without access to a shower or the open air until a test result became available.
According to prison inspectors, HMP Northumberland had ‘risen to the challenges of the pandemic situation well’; however prisoners who displayed symptoms were ‘exclusively confined to their cells for up to eight days whilst awaiting a test result’. This was compounded by inaccessible showers for prisoners with mobility difficulties, with one prisoner being unable to shower since March. Inspectors noted that prisoners who were considered to have behaved inappropriately ‘for example, taking too long in the shower’ were wrongly subjected to informal punishment by not being allowed out of their cells for the regime on the following day. More than half of prisoners with disabilities (54%) also reported feeling intimidated from staff, compared to 30% of prisoners without disabilities.
Perhaps most worrying was a trend amongst staff in some house blocks to keep prisoners in cells for a full 24 hour period as an informal punishment for poor behaviour. There was no proper authorisation or oversight of this regime and it was not in accordance with normal prison disciplinary procedures. Prisoners were generally permitted only one hour out of their cells each day, with some spending up to 27 hours in cells. Prisoners had to complete all domestic tasks within this very short time period, including exercise and using the electronic kiosk. This was below several other comparable prisons and, for prisoners in the induction units, time was restricted further to only 30 minutes.
‘[Most] prisoners had only one hour a day out of their cell, in addition to collecting meals,’ said chief inspector Peter Clarke. ‘This gave more limited time than at most similar prisons for basic activities, such as showering, exercising and using the electronic kiosks to make requests. Those on the induction units often had only 30 minutes rather than an hour a day out of their cell.’
Inspectors reported on the ‘longstanding problem’ of drugs in the jail and found that a quarter of prisoners said that they had access to drugs.