Coronavirus: HMP Preston social distancing ‘all but impossible’

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HMP Preston

image captionHMP Preston, a category B prison for men, had 650 inmates at the time of the inspection

Social distancing at a Lancashire prison is “all but impossible” because of severe overcrowding, inspectors say.

Inmates at HMP Preston are locked up for 22 hours a day, often sharing cells designed for one prisoner, HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP)


Imates isolating because of coronavirus were allowed out of their cells for 15 minutes a week to shower, they said.

The Ministry of Justice said it had taken the steps during the pandemic to limit the spread of the virus.

The local men’s prison was visited by HMIP inspectors in August to assess how prisons are recovering from restrictions since lockdown when visits, education and work were cancelled.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “While the population was lower than at our previous inspection in 2017, the prison was still severely overcrowded.

“As we have found elsewhere, the early release schemes brought in to relieve pressure on places during the pandemic had been ineffective, with no prisoners released following assessment.”

Violence ‘increasing’

Some accommodation in the 18th Century prison was deteriorating or, as in the case of the very cramped reception area, barely fit for purpose.

In such areas, Mr Clarke said: “Social distancing was all but impossible, and it was difficult in much of the rest of the prison.

“We saw few attempts by staff and prisoners to socially distance even where it was achievable.”

Inspectors found most prisoners had understood the reasons for the restrictions imposed in March, but some were becoming frustrated and violence was starting to increase.

Mr Clarke said overall staff had shown “considerable resilience” in managing the changing demands of coronavirus and prisoners had shown “similar fortitude, although the costs to their mental health of such an extended period of restriction were increasingly evident”.

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