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IMB report describes negative impact of very restrictive Covid regime

Measures imposed to control Covid meant most prisoners were spending 23 hours a day in their cells, says the independent monitoring board at HMP Bullingdon in its 2020-21 annual report. Social visits and access to the library and gym were periodically suspended, and education and vocational training were initially curtailed (although have now resumed). This was exacerbated by chronic overcrowding issues, which could be considered as inhumane.

However, the Board commended the prison for keeping the prison largely free from Covid until January 2021. Overall, staff tried to maintain a positive environment and treat prisoners fairly and humanely. This included the introduction of a system of video visits in July, which will continue alongside face-to-face social visits.

Other improvements and examples of good practice included:

  • A reduction in the number of outstanding offender assessment system plans to improve prisoners’ chances of rehabilitation to improve prisoners’ chances of rehabilitation.
  • The installation of two scanners to reduce illicit items being brought into the establishment.
  • In-cell telephones and additional phones to improve contact between prisoners and their families, and between prison staff and prisoners.

For the sixth consecutive year, the Board highlighted concerns about safety.  Levels of violence increase slightly, in spite of the Covid restrictions, and there were serious concerns about apparently self-inflicted deaths, which the IMB raised with the Minister.: it was expected that Covid restrictions would reduce violence levels, but they actually increased marginally.

The Board also noted that the prison struggled to deal with the mental health needs of certain prisoners:

  • Individuals who probably should be in a secure psychiatric institution were instead held for far too long in the segregation unit.

Ursula Keeling, IMB Bullingdon Chair, said:

“The pandemic  has had a major impact on efforts by the prison to meet prisoners’ health and wellbeing needs, in spite of the best efforts of staff.

Lengthy periods in cell were made worse by the current level of overcrowding and this is among several matters which the Board intends to raise with the Minister.

“Violence levels continue to be too high as is the quantity of drugs coming into the prison’