"I don’t think I’ll even let him come back up during this lockdown. It felt like neglect."
The words of a mother in one of our prisons, recalling the first face-to-face visit she had with her three-year-old son after several months in lockdown, as recounted to the prisons inspectorate.
"Can I touch mummy? Can I give mummy a kiss?", the child asked. "No" was the answer, something she described as "heart-breaking".
The inspectorate report acknowledges that the severe lockdown in prisons had been successful at containing the spread of COVID-19. But it had "come at a heavy cost to prisonsers".
Most prisonsers have spent the last year locked in their cells for over 22 hours a day. Contact with family members has been minimal. Mental and physical health has declined. "Their despondency, resentment and lack of hope for the future were especially notable".
This awful situation is a crisis incubated in Whitehall. The Government can hardly be blamed for COVID-19. The impressive speed of the vaccine roll-out also shows that it has got some things right.
But the Government's obstinate refusal to make the most of options such as early release schemes, to get vulnerable prisoners in particular out of harm's way, has compounded the misery in the prison system. It has likely been the cause of some avoidable deaths and long-term illness.
Every day, over 400,000 people are being vaccinated across the United Kingdom, a number far greater than the entire population of prisoners and staff. Vaccinating all prison staff and prisoners is eminently deliverable. It should be done. Now.
Not only would this reduce infection, illness and death in prison, and reduce the spread of infection into the community, it would also help prisons get out of their extreme lockdown and restore some hope, at least.
Next month, we will be hosting an expert panel, reviewing what has worked, and what hasn't, in the fight against coronavirus in prisons. You can find out more about this webinar here.
February 25 marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of the Woolf Report into the Strangeways prison protests; the longest prison protest in British history. We will be marking the publication of the report, and the protests that prompted it, in a series of webinars this month.
If you haven't already booked you place, you can do so here.
We recently published Coal today, gone tomorrow: How jobs were replaced with prison places by Phil Mike Jones, Emily Gray and Stephen Farrall.
The report reveals that prison-building programmes since the 1960s have been disproportionately concentrated on sites such as former coal mines, factories and chemical works. Has prison-building become one of the go-to regeneration tools in the former industrial heartlands of England and Scotland?
Keep your eyes peeled in April for the publication of our next briefing, on Electronic Monitoring. In the meantime, take a look at the latest commentary on EM from Mike Nellis and Roger Grimshaw.
News and Commentary
Nicki Jameson and Eric Allison, authors of Strangeways 1990: A serious disturbance, chart the changes in imprisonment and punishment across successive governments since the protests. Whilst there have been changes in prison policy, much intrinsically remains the same, and small pockets of resistance from within continue to emerge.
Last year, we collaborated with National Prisons Radio on a documentary about the 1990 Strangeway's prison protest, called 'Secret life of prisons". The documentary, originally broadcast across the prison estate, featured interviews with a number of the contributors to our 'After Strangeways' webinar series, which we're holding later this month.
You can listen to the full documentary, in a two-part podcast, here.
Our Research Director Roger Grimshaw, a member of London ACEs Hub, has written about the relationship between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), trauma and criminalisation. Many studies show an overrepresentation of those with multiple ACEs in the criminal justice system. We need to move away from abstraction, recognise the influence of ACEs on many in our criminal justice system and ask: Is this what justice looks like?
An eye on criminal justice
The Metropolitan Police have removed hundreds of people from its gangs matrix, after it was revealed in 2018 that the database both disproportionately targeted black and minority ethnic men and that it held details of those who pose minimal threat to public safety.
Our report from 2016 by Becky Clarke and Dr Patrick Williams, Dangerous Associations: Joint enterprise, gangs and racism documents the disproportionate targeting of black men as being 'gang associated' leading to inclusion in the gangs matrix. Read the full report.