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08 August 2022

Time out of cell — is the ministry telling the truth?

We noticed an article in the Daily Express on 8 August in which a ministry spokesman gave a categorical assurance that prisoners were not spending 23 hours a day in cell.

This came as something of a surprise. That’s partly because we continue to hear from people that this is still happening regularly, and inspection reports support that view. But it’s also because the lengthy correspondence we’ve had with ministers on this issue (since December last year) seemed to demonstrate pretty conclusively that the ministry hasn’t had a reliable way of measuring time out of cell. The only honest answer the ministry ought to be giving to the question of “are people still spending 23 hours a day in cell?” is “we don’t know”.

The last letter we received, from the previous prisons minister, suggested that new regime monitoring tools would give the possibility of both local and central “oversight and scrutiny” of individuals who weren’t accessing any activity out of cell. So, prompted by the Daily Express article, we’ve written to the new minister asking for that data to be made public.

It’s an open secret that many prisons are struggling with intense staffing shortfalls, and that outbreaks of Covid amongst both staff and prisoners also continue to cause local problems. The solution to that lies in more staff and fewer prisoners — not in un-evidenced assertions from the Ministry of Justice press office.

Peter Dawson