Anne Owers: Young adult prisoners locked up in cells for too long

Chief inspector of prisons Anne Owers has warned the mental health of imprisoned young adults is being put at risk by the long hours they spend locked up in cells.

The Prison Service recommends that prisoners spend at least 10 hours out of their cells on weekdays, a target which prisons have reported that they comfortably meet on average. However, a survey published this week by Owers of 6,500 inmates in public sector prisons found that just 12% were let out for more than 10 hours a day. This applied to a quarter of 1,000 inmates of private sector prisons who were also surveyed.

Young adults situation “very disappointing”

Owers said that the situation for young adults – those aged 18-21 – was “very disappointing”. A closer scrutiny of four prisons holding young men found that those who were in some form of employment were “at best” let out for eight hours a day. Some unemployed young men spent just two hours a day out of their cells.

Owers said that time out of cell was crucial to prisoners’ mental health and reduced re-offending. She called for the Prison Service to give an accurate picture of the situation, adding: “Official figures often assume every prisoner is out for all the time possible, that every workshop is filled to capacity, and in some cases that none are unemployed. Those figures are rarely challenged by more senior managers – and they should be.”

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