The 'damaging effect' of Covid lockdown on young prisoners as many spend just 40 minutes a day out of cells

Pre-existing problems with education and rehabilitation for under-18s in England were exacerbated by the Covid lockdown, a prison watchdog inspection has revealed.

Pre-Covid, understaffing and a lack of resources remained a serious concern and the rehabilitation of many young people continued to fall short, the 2019/20 report by the Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs) has found.

These problems were made worse by the initial lockdown restrictions introduced in March 2020, which led to some young people spending as little as 40 minutes a day out of their cell, and almost all education being stopped.

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Levels of violence also remained too high, with the need to keep some young people apart, and some young people isolating themselves in their rooms due to safety fears

A generic inside shot of a prison.

A national shortage of secure mental health beds also meant those with complex mental health needs often spent prolonged periods in segregation

While preventive measures during the Covid pandemic reduced the predicted number of infections and deaths, IMBs reported on the damaging cumulative impact on young people:

Between March and May 2020, young people spent at least 22 hours a day locked in their room. At HMYOI Cookham Wood, daily time out of room was as little as 40 minutes.

Progression was put on hold and specialist psychology services were withdrawn, with a service for acute cases resuming in July.

Between March and August 2020, education provision was lacking or poorly delivered in all four YOIs inspected including Cookham Wood, Feltham, Werrington and Wetherby. While this began to improve as lockdown restrictions eased, it was not at the same rate as in the community.

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More recent updates indicate that progress is still slow in many of these areas, but education is still not back to pre-Covid levels.

The easing of lockdown restrictions in recent months and more time out of room were welcomed by the IMBs, but also led to increased levels of violence at some YOIs.

Anne Finlayson, Chair of the IMB YOI group said: "Pre-existing concerns over young people’s welfare and progression were inevitably further exacerbated by the pandemic. With classroom education ceasing, the experience of vulnerable young people in custody was not reflective of those in the community, who were still provided with face-to-face education during lockdown.

“Boards will continue to monitor and report on both day-today outcomes and, where possible, the longer-term impact of the restricted regime on young people.”