Government learning ‘wrong lesson’ on prisons with inmates ‘not rehabilitated when banged up’

A prisons watchdog has warned the Government against learning the “wrong lesson from the pandemic” as he said inmates were “not being rehabilitated while they are banged up”.

In his first annual report since taking over the role, chief inspector of prisons Charlie Taylor (pictured) said in the past year “many prisoners have been released without some of the core building blocks that will help them to lead successful, crime-free lives”, running the risk that “more will continue to offend”.

The predicted large-scale deaths in prisons as a result of Covid-19 were prevented, but the severe and prolonged measures put in place as a result harmed the physical and mental welfare of inmates, he said.

Mr Taylor’s observations came on the same day the Justice Secretary Robert Buckland described some of the changes made in jails during the pandemic as a “success”.

Mr Taylor said: “There is a danger of learning the wrong lesson from the pandemic by assuming that the solution to prison violence is to isolate prisoners from each other, rather than to make sure that when they are out of their cells, they are well-managed by high-quality officers during association, and given access to meaningful and productive education, training and work.

“Before the pandemic, my predecessors consistently raised concerns about the amount of time prisoners spent in their cells. There is, therefore, a risk that new regime becomes an official endorsement of these historically poor outcomes.

“The reality is that prisoners are not being rehabilitated when they are banged up.

“The lack of access to offender management programmes, education, resettlement planning and family visits means that in the last year, many prisoners have been released without some of the core building blocks that will help them to lead successful, crime-free lives. This may increase the risk that more will continue to offend.”

While violence “may have been suppressed by locking people up for almost all of the day”, the underlying causes have not gone away and “continuing severe lock-up cannot be the answer in a post-Covid-19 world,” Mr Taylor added.

Reiterating concerns about prisoners experiencing “chronic boredom”, he said this was to the extent they “moved their belongings around the cell, sat in a different position or simply delayed throwing litter in the bin, just to give themselves something to do”.

“Some told us they listened to the ticking of the clock or counted down the days on the calendar,” his report added.

There were exceptions, with Mr Taylor praising the leadership in some prisons which managed to give inmates more time out of cells than others and noting that establishing virtual family visits while those in person could not take place had been a “success”.

Responding to the report, prisons minister Alex Chalk said rehabilitation and education work is “ramping back up” but added: “It is absolutely right that we continue to look at what lessons can be learned from the pandemic and we will carefully consider all the chief inspector’s findings.”

In a speech on Tuesday to the Centre for Social Justice, Mr Buckland said: “During the Covid-19 pandemic prisons were forced to do things differently – finding new ways to keep providing decent prison environments as well as their day-to-day rehabilitative work.

“What has been a surprise for many is just what a success these changes have been, enabling regimes to deliver better services and to make prisons safer places.

“In many ways, there will be no going back to how things were done before and the Government is determined to seize the opportunity to build back a better prisons system – one that not only has better outcomes but also enables staff to keep better order and spot safety concerns much more easily.”

Shadow justice secretary David Lammy said: “Ministers urgently need to get a handle on our prisons so that prisoners can rehabilitate.

“Until the Government fixes the dangerous and inhumane conditions in our prisons, the endless cycle of re-offense will continue and more victims of crime will be created.”

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