Prisons in England and Wales are struggling to provide safe, humane and rehabilitative regimes, due to the aftermath of the severe Covid restrictions, current staffing problems and other pressures, say the independent monitoring boards in their national annual report, published today.
The 2021-22 national annual report records an ‘exceptionally challenging year’ in prisons. But, even when regimes improved, IMBs are still reporting major concerns:
- Staffing problems create risks to the stability of prisons, the regimes they are able to offer and the necessary support for individual prisoners
- Proposals for 20,000 new prison places will not only add to staffing pressures, but will also fail to replace old and unsuitable prisons, or to provide more suitable environments for women
- The chronic problem of the inappropriate use of prison for men and women with severe mental health problems, many in segregation
- The gaps in resettlement provision, following the transition to the Probation Service, particularly for accommodation support
- Continuing disproportionality in the treatment of Black, Asian and minority ethnic prisoners
- The ongoing inability to ensure that prisoners are reunited with their property
The report, however, also points to some of the positive initiatives being rolled out under the Prisons White Paper, some of which resurrect previous arrangements and some of which are new. They include more focused support for housing, employment and substance misuse, a return to a national prisoner education service, and a ‘resettlement passport’.
Dame Anne Owers, national chair of the IMBs, says: ‘The new Justice Secretary and Prisons Minister face a daunting in-tray. The disruptions of 2021, which are clearly set out in this report, have cast a long shadow and 2022 has brought new problems, particularly in ensuring that there are sufficient, and sufficiently experienced, staff to provide stability and positive regimes. The Prisons White Paper’s renewed focus on resettlement is welcome, but will need to be embedded in the way prisons work and engage a wide range of outside bodies and departments. This will be not be easy, given the other challenges for the prison service and the pressure on public finances’.