In spite of the Justice Secretary’s stated aim of giving prisoners ‘a better shot at rehabilitation’, this is far from the reality at Pentonville prison, says the Independent Monitoring Board in its 2021-22 annual report, released today.
The Board found that the impact of Covid-19 continued to negatively impact prisoners’ wellbeing and opportunities for rehabilitation. Three-quarters of the prisoners at Pentonville were awaiting trial or sentencing, many without any sense of when or how their time in the criminal justice system would progress. During this time opportunities for meaningful activity and mental health support were limited. Many prisoners will leave Pentonville without having addressed the behaviour that landed them there in the first place, and no better equipped to lead a life away from crime.
In its annual report, the Pentonville IMB recognises that:
- Prison staff, healthcare and management worked tirelessly to keep the prison as safe from infection as they could, including managing the biggest prison outbreak of Covid in the country;
- Staff and volunteers made determined efforts to provide pastoral care to some of the most vulnerable prisoners in very difficult circumstances;
- The launch of a well-run drug-free wing has allowed prisoners who are in recovery, or wish to avoid the drug culture, to have the best chance of doing so.
- New regimes brought in to manage the safety of prisoners and staff during the pandemic have curtailed the opportunities for a choice of meaningful rehabilitative activity for the majority of prisoners;
- Notwithstanding the continued very poor physical state of the prison the MOJ has required Pentonville to fill up its cramped cells – designed for one prisoner but almost all holding two – to pre-pandemic levels. This will result in still fewer places in education and workshops for prisoners to engage in purposeful activity to assist with their rehabilitation.
The chaotic and mismanaged offender management unit (OMU) also undermined the work of the staff and volunteers who deal with prisoners’ frustration face to face on landings and in clinics and classrooms. The OMU is the single place in the prison where all aspects of a prisoner’s sentence management come together. Papers and emails were not dealt with in a timely or correct fashion. Questions such as: ‘What is my release date?’ ‘Am I eligible for transfer?’ ‘Can I apply for HDC (an ankle tag)?’ were impossible to answer, with prisoners waiting weeks and sometimes even months for this information.
IMB Pentonville Chair, Alice Gotto, said:
“Pentonville prison and healthcare staff undoubtedly managed the ongoing pandemic well, but at a price. We received more calls to our prisoner helpline than any other prison. Prisoners told us they lacked basic but vital information about the legal and prison processes facing them, particularly in relation to sentence management, healthcare and property, and many were locked up for up to 23 hours a day. This is neither fair nor humane, and is far from being a rehabilitative environment.”