By Sian Bayley, Local Democracy Reporter
Prisoners in Wandsworth with coronavirus symptoms were kept locked up in their cells and not allowed to shower or exercise for up to two weeks, a new report has found.
The findings were published in a report by prison inspectors on Monday, which looked at the conditions in three jails, including Wandsworth, Altcourse in Liverpool and Elmley on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.
Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the “vast majority” of prisoners across all sites “were locked up for nearly the whole day with usually no more than half an hour out of their cells.”
In Wandsworth, “symptomatic prisoners had been locked in their cells for up to two weeks with no opportunity to come out for a shower”.
Mr Clarke said: “The prison had taken this decision in consultation with Public Health England, and as a result of the lack of space for a protective isolation unit.”
He added that a prisoner the inspectors met told them that two weeks of isolation had affected his mental health.
By the time of the inspector’s visit, there were only three symptomatic prisoners and these measures had ended.
Overall, the prison has had more than 100 symptomatic prisoners.
The report noted that the 19th century buildings at Wandsworth prison caused some issues with social distancing measures, and that the “narrow Victorian-era prison landings” were “especially problematic”.
It said: “The prison’s physical limitations therefore had a severe impact on outcomes for some prisoners.”
Commenting on the findings of the report, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “There is absolutely no room for complacency about the crisis in our prisons.”
He praised prison managers, staff and prisons for “working together to make the best of an impossible situation,” but said ministers “have not done all they could to help”.
The report found that in the week before the visit, Wandsworth had received 19 prisoners who had been recalled to custody, most serving only seven to 14 days.
Only one man across the three prisons had been released under the ‘End of Custody Release Scheme’.
Mr Dawson criticised the current situation as “not sustainable.”
He said: “It will stop making sense as restrictions in the community start to ease and receptions into prison increase.
“It’s time for ministers to step up and end the overcrowding which turns a difficult situation into a dangerous one.”
Despite the challenges, the inspector’s report praised the “swift testing and provision of results” at Wandsworth in particular, adding that this ensured prisoners free of coronavirus were quickly allowed to participate in the restricted regime.
It said that “considerable thought had been put into providing good quality in-cell activity packs” at all inspected prisons, and highlighted the provision of small temporary libraries on each wing in Wandsworth, as well as videos of in-cell workouts on the prison TV channel.
A prisoner survey had been carried out at both Wandsworth and Elmley to allow more communication and television channels.
The report praised the consultation for helping “to increase the legitimacy of the restrictions among prisoners”.
At Wandsworth, the governor had written to all families to inform them of what was happening in the prison, and had given them a number to call with the assurance that an additional welfare check would be carried out on request.
Pictured top: Wandsworth prison
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