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Prisoners protected from Covid-19, but increase in acute mental health problems, say independent monitors

Releasing its annual report for 2020-1, the IMB at Wormwood Scrubs commends the considered and caring Covid-10 regime, which minimised outbreaks and infections, but notes that these restrictions may have contributed to the steep rise in acute mental health problems,  so that it can now take four weeks, rather than one, for a routine mental health referral.

The Board notes the following positives:

  • An overall reduction in recorded violence, continuing since last year, in part due to initiatives to make the prison safer
  • A new and pleasant staff canteen ‘The Escape’, which provides training for 12 prisoners to gain qualifications for catering jobs on release
  • Improvements to the environment: new windows, the refurbishment of visits and reception areas
  • The introduction of video visits (Purple Visits) for prisoners to contact families during Covid restrictions

However, there are areas of concern, or where there has been little or no progress (recognising the restrictions of Covid-19)

  • Body worn video cameras are still not used, or under-used by staff, to record uses of force
  • Missed hospital appointments with no explanation
  • The key work scheme, for staff to provide support to prisoners, has still not been fully rolled out
  • Poor quality food
  • Disproportionate use of force on black prisoners

IMB Wormwood Scrubs Chair, Tanya Ossack , said:

“ This has been a very difficult year for prisoners.  They have been well protected from Covid-19 but deprived of a regime, and confined to their cells for very long periods of time, impacting on their mental health.

“The prison has made significant progress towards making the prison a ‘safer place’, but the Board is conscious that budget and service cuts could well put back all the progress which has been so carefully achieved”