The Covid pandemic has greatly restricted prisoners’ time out of cell, with minimal access to education, training and social visits. Rehabilitation programmes and transfers to open prisons were also affected, causing inevitable frustration for prisoners.
In its annual report, Erlestoke’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) notes that despite Covid restrictions:
- Chaplaincy, library, education and gym staff were proactive in finding innovative ways to maintain at least some services to prisoners
- The Listener service, (prisoners trained by the Samaritans who offer support to fellow prisoners in crisis) carried out excellent work and healthcare demonstrated flexibility in managing prisoners’ needs
- The Governor and his management team showed notable commitment to keeping prisoners and staff safe under ever-changing circumstances
However, the pandemic clearly had an adverse impact on prisoners, with the report highlighting:
- Significant delays in the transfer of suitable prisoners to open prisons, some of whom waited for over two years
- A chronic national shortage of accommodation for those prisoners with complex mental health needs who cannot be adequately cared for in a prison environment
- Slow progress in the replacement of residential wings in the prison, which has hindered prisoners who want to progress with rehabilitation programmes
Kathryn Williams, Chair of the IMB at Erlestoke, commented:
“…The restricted regime undoubtedly kept prisoners safe during the pandemic. Patience was understandably tested when tighter controls remained in place for some time while the wider community saw restrictions lifted. We acknowledge the challenges the prison service has had to face. As the regime opens up, we are keen to see a renewed focus and drive towards meaningful training and resettlement opportunities to give prisoners hope going forward….”.