‘Understaffed and overstretched’ Norwich prison praised for Covid response

Covid outbreak at HMP Norwich.

More than 300 inmates and 100 staff have been infected during a mass Covid outbreak at HMP Norwich. - Credit: Archant

Norwich Prison has been praised by independent monitors for protecting inmates and staff during Covid outbreaks despite being understaffed and overcrowded. 

The “fragile mental health” of many prisoners had been severely affected by being locked up for up to 22 hours a day when the pandemic struck, said HMP Norwich Independent Monitoring Board.

Prison life had “unexpectedly been made even tougher” with no classroom education or gym sessions and time for exercise, showers, telephone calls and domestic chores severely curtailed.

HMP Norwich, where Matthew Gray was found hanged. Photo : Steve Adams

Staff at Norwich Prison have been praised for their handling of the Covid pandemic by  independent monitors. - Credit: Steve Adams

In its annual report, the monitoring board praised “versatile and resilient” staff for adopting an "all hands on deck" ethos despite seeing colleagues falling ill with Covid. 

Measures to ease pressures included allowing small groups of prisoners out of their cells to work in kitchens and gardens. In-cell education and distraction packs were issued and sanctions were reduced to allow all prisoners to have a television.

Stephanie Amey, chair of the IMB board at HMP Norwich, said: “Norwich managed the unprecedented situation thanks in no small part to enormous efforts by individual staff, the versatile management and the recognition of how difficult the situation really was and consequent compliance by the majority of prisoners.” 

Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures show assaults on staff at HMP Norwich in 2017 were at their highes

Inmates at HMP Norwich were confirmed to cells for up to 22 hours a day. - Credit: Archant © 2009

Prisons in Norfolk saw almost 600 inmates and 250 staff catch Covid over the winter period, including more than 200 prisoners and 70 staff during a mass outbreak at HMP Norwich.

The prison includes a specialist wing for elderly prisoners who were especially vulnerable to the virus.

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Despite praising efforts during the pandemic, the report highlighted issues including on-going overcrowding and toilet facilities in doubled-up cells lacking essential privacy.

Prisoners were allocated to cells which had not been checked and were frequently dirty, it added. 

A Wing at Norwich prison. Photo: Angela Sharpe

HMP Norwich includes a specialist wing for elderly prisoners especially vulnerable to Covid. - Credit: Archant © 2009

Incidents of self-harm by cutting are prevalent and violence remains relatively high with poor behaviour not routinely challenged by all staff.

Induction for new prisoners had been cut to a minimum and was being conducted through a locked door. 

Many projects and planned improvements have had to be shelved, delayed or cut due to Covid. 

Ms Amey said: “There is still so much to do. Staffing numbers remain far too low.

"Essential rehabilitative assistance is not taking place, support for mental health is inadequately funded and resourced, and key workers supporting individuals are not being detailed due to staff shortages.”