Covid Scotland: Lengthy coronavirus isolation for prisoners ‘risked breaching human rights’

Putting prisoners in lengthy spells of coronavirus quarantine risked breaching their human rights, with a prison watchdog warning the “consequences of such prolonged isolation cannot be overstated”.

Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, of His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland (HMIPS), made the warning in her annual report published today. She said “prisons became places of containment rather than rehabilitation”.

Some prisoners were locked up for as many as 23 hours a day, and the prison inspectorate said it remained “concerned with the inability to deliver anything more than a very restricted regime and the slow recovery from Covid back to normality, let alone the more expansive rehabilitative regime we would wish to see”.

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The HMIPS 54-page report found access to fresh air was “routinely compromised during Covid-19 outbreaks” and strict isolation rules for close contacts continued long after Scotland’s were lifted.

A general view of HMP Shotts in Shotts, Lanarkshire. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Ms Sinclair-Gieben, the Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, said: “Under the principle of equivalence, people in prison should be afforded provision of, or access to, appropriate services or treatment which are at least consistent in range and quality with that available to the wider community.

“The requirement of close contacts to isolate for a minimum of ten days continued long past the community requirements, maintaining a set of health restrictions so out of step with what is required for safe management of the population risks an adverse reaction.”

She said rules that prisoners should be offered at least one hour of fresh air and two hours of meaningful interaction were “simply not always met”.

“It amounted to social isolation for significant periods and risked breaching ECHR requirements under article three,” she said. “The consequences of such prolonged isolation cannot be overstated.”

Ms Sinclair-Gieben also warned the increase in the number of prison deaths was not explicable by either Covid or its ageing population.

In the report, it said: “HMIPS was concerned, and remains concerned about the breaches in human rights and adverse consequences of the protective measures which the SPS (Scottish Prison Service) necessarily adopted.”

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