INMATES at a young offenders’ institute were locked in a cell for up to 23 hours a day – often bored or asleep – during the coronavirus pandemic, the prisons watchdog found.

Covid-19 was partly to blame for a recent deterioration of the regime for young adult prisoners at HMP/YOI Deerbolt, in Barnard Castle, according to HM Inspectorate of Prisons.

Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that in the previous, 2018, inspection Deerbolt was found to be reasonably safe and respectful but needed to improve the daily regime and its approach to the rehabilitation and resettlement of prisoners about to be released.

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In 2021, Mr Taylor said, inspectors “again found a mixed picture, showing a deterioration in safety outcomes and the quality of regime, but improvement in work towards resettlement.”

A report published today states that leaders and managers at Deerbolt had taken effective action to minimise the spread of the virus, with all prisoners and staff offered the vaccine and regular testing.

Mr Taylor added: “This is important context, but it remained the case that the experience was very poor for these young prisoners who were typically spending 23 hours a day locked in cell with little structured activity.

“The impact of this on prisoners was stark and much more needed to be done, and greater ambition shown, in making sure that more work, education and recreational activity was reintroduced as a priority.”

But inspectors found prisoners typically spending 23 hours locked in their cells, often bored or asleep and with little structured activity, which was particularly disappointing as Deerbolt has extensive outdoor space.

The prison had improved sentence planning and risk management arrangements and inspectors noted some good work to support care leavers and improvements to health care, mental health care and social care.

Leaders introduced some improvements in response to inspectors’ feedback but “this confirmed to us a somewhat reactive approach to issues and the absence of a useful plan which identified priorities and timeframes for progress.”

Oversight of violence reduction measures, for example, was poor – it was reactive and limited rather than dealing with the underlying conflict and issues.

Mr Taylor said: “Deerbolt is a prison which retains great potential.

“We encourage leaders and managers to show greater confidence in the restoration and development of the regime and make better use of the extensive space.

"We also encourage them to develop a more consultative and ambitious approach with prisoners that expects more of them and incentivises their engagement with what the prison is able to offer.”


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