Hundreds of Preston prisoners struck down with Covid-19
One in four inmates with disease at peak in Preston Prison
More than 200 Preston prison inmates have contracted Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, figures reveal.
Charity the Prison Reform Trust said measures introduced to reduce the spread of the virus in custody, such as keeping prisoners in their cells for most of the day, have taken a "significant" mental and emotional toll on inmates nationally.
Home Office data shows 241 cases were recorded by Preston prison between March 2020 and the end of January.
November saw the highest number of infections among prisoners, when 164 people tested positive.
During that month, Preston had a population of 682, meaning 24 per cent of inmates contracted coronavirus.
At the start of the pandemic, not all prisoners showing symptoms were tested and where there was evidence of an outbreak, any symptomatic case was assumed to be positive.
Testing was introduced regularly from April 15, when prisons were given sufficient testing supplies.
The data also shows that no inmates died within four weeks of a positive Covid-19 test or clinical assessment determining they had coronavirus.
Alex Hewson, senior policy officer at the Prison Reform Trust, said: "A year on since restrictions were introduced, saving lives has come at a huge price for prisoners and their families.
"Rather than following the advice of their own health experts to reduce prison numbers significantly, ministers chose to enforce a near 24-hour lockdown of people to their six by nine-foot prison cell – often with another person and almost nothing to do.
"Twelve months on that remains the case.
“Releases would have afforded prison staff the vital breathing space to protect lives whilst also protecting efforts for rehabilitation."
He added that as lockdown restrictions are being eased outside of prison, those in custody are unsure of what the future holds.
"It’s clear that rehabilitation and improving public safety don’t come from locking people up all day, every day," he said.
“For all the heroic efforts of prison managers and staff, we should remember that their task has been made harder by the overcrowded and dilapidated condition of our prisons before the pandemic began.”
The Prison Service said secure video call technology was rolled out in every facility for prisoners to keep in touch with their families and that specialist officers were giving one-to-one mental health support.
A spokesman said: “Without immediate, decisive action, public health experts warned that thousands of lives could have been lost in prisons.
“We continue to support prisoners’ wellbeing and rehabilitation through vital family contact, education, work and exercise.”