The number of violent attacks and incidents of self-harm at Gartree Prison fell dramatically amid the Covid lockdowns in 2020-2021.
Assaults at the high-security jail near Market Harborough fell by 34 per cent while self-harm incidents decreased by 36 per cent, a new watchdog report shows.
The in-depth study is being published by the Independent Monitoring Board, (IMB) which helps to look after prisoners’ welfare, conditions and wellbeing all over the UK.
The IMB praised the way that both staff and inmates at the Category B penal establishment were able to work with severe restrictions during the two-year Covid pandemic.
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But the board said it “remains concerned about the impact of severe restrictions on prisoners’ future mental health and wellbeing” at the 57-year-old jail.
“Inevitably, the lockdown has limited the access of prisoners to one another and the number of violent incidents has reduced over the past year,” said the IMB.
IMB Gartree Chair Tim Norman, 72, said: “We all suffered during the pandemic, but it was particularly hard on prisoners and their families.
“The prisoners had to spend nearly all day in their cells.
“With no access to family visits, purposeful activity, physical exercise and wider association, it was a very tough time indeed and reduced opportunities for progression and rehabilitation,” said Tim, who lives near Market Harborough.
“Now that the prison is slowly returning to a pre-pandemic regime, the Board needs to ensure that longstanding issues, particularly those affecting the fabric of the prison, are addressed.”
There were 39 cases of prisoners attacking each other at Gartree jail – which has about 650 inmates – and 43 attacks by prisoners on staff.
The attacks “in some instances have been linked to debt, substance misuse and frustrations with the regime”, said the IMB investigation.
“The influx of drugs and other illegal items has continued over the past year with an increasing number of drone sightings and finds. “However, effective targeted-detection and searching has allowed prohibited items such as phones, drugs, weapons, and ‘hooch’ (illicitly brewed alcohol) to be detected and confiscated,” says the IMB.
“Changes in the way that exercise has been facilitated may have helped to reduce the trading of illicit items and improve safety and the Board has been advised that there will be no return to whole-prison exercise periods on the sports field when the normal regime resumes.
“Issues relating to debt and violence persist and some prisoners still report being victimised or feeling vulnerable to attack, which can lead to them self-isolating and/or self-harming.”
Three inmates have died in custody over the last year.
Two of them are thought to have taken their own lives while the third died of a Covid-related illness.
The IMB warned that the “unacceptable” showers at the ageing jail are “not fit for purpose”.
The Board is also calling for the situation of prisoners serving IPP sentences, (Indeterminate sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection), to be improved because many are now “many years over the tariff period set by the courts”.