A prison held in limbo


The 2020 annual report for the IMB at High Down, published today highlights the issues caused by the delayed transition from a category B local prison, to a C and the damaging cumulative impact on prisoners due to the restrictions imposed by COVID-19.

The Board noted the following:

  • Uncertainty about the prison’s future role has undermined its ability to provide purposeful activity, and understandably men who have earned category C status feel aggrieved at being held in a prison that does not allow them to progress.
  • The lack of purposeful actives became more problematic when the prison had to concentrate all of their efforts and resources to deal with the challenges of the pandemic.
  • The education provision stopped completely in March 2020. It was reintroduced in August 2020, in the form of in cell packs.
  • From mid March 2020, into 2021 men have spent in excess of 23 hours each day locked up, some in single cells used for double occupancy, many of which have an unscreened toilet. This has clearly been at the expense of fair and humane treatment.

The Board were however pleased to note the following:

  • The chaplaincy team has proactively provided regular support throughout the year, with access to faith services and support with family contact.
  • The prison was able to provide men with work making personal protective equipment for frontline NHS workers during the early stages of the pandemic, and the men were pleased to have the opportunity to take part in the national effort to tackle the crisis.
  • The introduction of ‘Purple Visits’ – (secure video calling)

The Co-Chairs of the IMB said “this has been a very difficult year and we commend staff for keeping the prisoners safe and well informed during the pandemic. While preventive measures reduced the predicted number of infections and deaths, the damaging cumulative impact on prisoners is not one that can be overstated, or overlooked. It is difficult to imagine what life must have been like for the men, spending over 23 hours a day in a shared cell for months on end with very little to occupy their time”