The “significant impact” of Covid on life in a Teesside prison was revealed in a recent report.
Inmates at Kirklevington Grange lost contact with loved ones as education and work dried up in the early stages of the pandemic.
And the virus was just a challenge to Yarm prison inmates during a year of suffering everything from lack of water to bed bugs.
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The picture of life behind bars during the pandemic is portrayed in the Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB) annual report, which commends prison staff for doing “remarkably well” during the unprecedented time and the steps that have been taken to address Covid Keeping in check during the time Watchdog admitted it had been a “very difficult year”.
“The governor, officers and staff are to be congratulated on their performance over the year and their prompt response to changing situations,” the report said.
And unlike other prisons in the northeast that battled fatal outbreaks – like HMP Frankland – there were only seven registered cases of Covid in the Category D prison.
“No recorded deaths and only seven confirmed Covid cases, none hospitalized and no major incidents, pays tribute to their work ethic,” she adds.
However, the virus was still causing severe disruption. In-person classes were suspended for five months, and while classes were being moved to the phone, sessions were sometimes missed simply because the prisoner was not in his cell.
(Photo: Peter Reimann)
Contact with family members was also hampered as inmates were forced to rely on monitored video calls instead.
However, acceptance for this decreased as many inmates remained “frustrated by a very poor IT infrastructure” in the open prison, which instead offered additional phone credit.
For those whose sentences ended last year, they faced more challenges. Restrictions meant many hostels were unavailable, with hotels and short term rentals to keep them off the road.
And for those who were still serving their sentences, the work dried up too. There were over 80 prisoners in paid or external employment prior to the lockdown, but those positions all disappeared when the pandemic hit.
Even the adjoining café, which the prisoners used as a workplace to serve the local community, only had to resort to “take-out”.
“Many jobs were lost during the lockdown, especially in the hospitality industry; in other areas, the hours were reduced to four hours per fortnight in one case and one prisoner was given leave of absence from his employer, ”the report said.
When paid work returned in August, those who worked outside the prison walls were placed in a separate unit to minimize the risk of the virus spreading while requiring additional risk assessments.
“This and many changes to the regime due to changed guidelines have created significant additional work for staff in a period of unprecedented absence,” the report adds.
It turned out that prisoners and staff had even once teamed up for a “New York” fundraiser run on behalf of the NHS.
“The prison has come through this very difficult period admirably,” the report added.
Covid wasn’t the only problem, however, as inspectors found that some long-standing problems still persisted in the prison.
Drugs are still a problem, the IMD noted, while the 56-year-old resettlement prison is still in need of “substantial upkeep”.
“This was evidenced by the decommissioning of three units, resulting in an operating capacity of only 163 inmates, a reduction of 120,” adds the report, which found evidence of heating failures and water shortages “for a time” from the corrosion of old Tube.
(Image: Katie Lunn)
And newcomers still found that their belongings were lost during the transfer. One remained without his property for “several months”.
Added to this was the persistent problem of bed bugs – which the prison found “problematic”.
However, the report adds: “An overall view of the prison showed that it continued to be a well-run operation and that the majority of prisoners had positive experiences during their stay.”
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