WINCHESTER Prison suppressed transmission of coronavirus effectively, with only one inmate dying of the virus, but prisoners became increasingly frustrated after severe regime restrictions, a new report has found.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that the city prison faced stark pressures, aggravated by increasing numbers of new arrivals and overcrowding.

As previously reported, an inmate at Winchester Prison died after catching Covid-19 after he was admitted to Southampton Hospital for radiotherapy.

John Malcolm Maunder was serving a 13-year sentence for horrific sex offences when he became ill. His health deteriorated and he died at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester on April 20.

The new report reviews Winchester, along with HMP Leeds and HMP Thameside in south east London.

Mr Clarke said: “Most prisoners at Leeds and many at Winchester shared Victorian cells, originally built to hold only one person. Poor enough in normal times, this was even more unacceptable when prisoners were locked up for almost all of the day in cramped conditions.

“Most prisoners were locked in their cells for more than 22.5 hours every day and had been for some three months. At Leeds we observed some staff punishing poor behaviour by withdrawing an individual’s access to a shower for a day or more. This would always be unacceptable but was especially inappropriate because of the hot weather during the week of our visit [on 23 June].”

However, Mr Clarke added: “Although prison restrictions were accepted as being necessary early in the pandemic and were, at that point, similar to those in the community, prisoners had become confused as to why community restrictions were easing but restrictions in prisons were not."

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In particular, in Winchester prisoners complained that a monthly newsletter was their main source of information and did not keep them sufficiently updated about the developing situation.

“This, along with the lack of purposeful activity, meant many prisoners were bored and frustrated. It was clear to our inspectors that more needed to be done in all the prisons to re-engage with prisoners and offer more activity to keep them occupied and well,” Mr Clark said.

The number of self-harm incidents at all three prisons was similar to before the restrictions were imposed, but in Winchester they had risen sharply during the early weeks of the restricted regime, but dropped in May and was relatively low, compared to the level in March and April, in the first three weeks of June.

The loss of social visits continued to affect prisoners and their families enormously and the introduction of video calling for virtual visits had been far too slow to materialise and was not yet operational in any of these prisons Only one prisoner across the three sites had been released early, despite many being eligible for consideration.

Overall, Mr Clarke said: “In the three prisons, we were struck by the commitment to maintaining the regime, albeit a very restricted one. However, we were concerned that there was little evidence of initiatives to relax the very restrictive regimes, and it was clear that prisoners were becoming increasingly frustrated and struggled to understand the disparity between what they were experiencing and what was happening in the community. There was an obvious need to engage prisoners once again in some meaningful activity out of their cells. So far there has been a degree of understanding and goodwill on the part of most prisoners, but there is growing evidence that this is now being severely tested.”