INSPECTORS have praised HMP Risley’s response to the coronavirus pandemic but have raised concerns about prisoners’ mental health.

The category C jail was found to be ‘well led and continued to make progress in improving safety and respect’ for inmates despite the effects of Covid-19 after a scrutiny visit by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in November.

But Risley prison had been ‘operating under a severely curtailed regime’ for eight months at the time of the inspection, with most prisoners let out of their cells for only one hour a day and some being locked up for 28 hours at a time due to precautions taken as a result of the virus.

A report released this morning, Tuesday, found that this was damaging to their mental health and described the issue as a ‘serious concern’.

But management ‘promoted social distancing and cleanliness’, with frequent cleaning of communal undertaken by a team of prisoners.

Staff wore face masks in all areas, while weekly coronavirus testing of workers had begun onsite.

The Warrington Road prison was among the first to resume social visits, and restarted programmes to address reoffending in August.

Levels of violence and self-harm reduced at the start of the pandemic and remained below pre-pandemic levels despite a subsequent rise.

HMP Risley was a ‘clean prison’, although some areas had ‘suffered much wear and tear’.

Health care services were found to have improved over the past five years, although dental care needs were ‘not being fully met’.

Chief inspector of prisons Charlie Taylor said: “The management team had worked effectively, in partnership with health care staff and Public Health England, to control a Covid-19 outbreak at the start of the pandemic and to contain a later outbreak on G wing in September.

“We saw staff engaging well with prisoners – most prisoners, 79 per cent, said that staff treated them with respect.

“Key work had been well embedded in the prison before the pandemic, and weekly checks on the well-being of more vulnerable prisoners and those near to release had continued during the Covid-19 period.

“We found strong leadership and a motivated management team that had risen to the challenges of the pandemic.

“At the same time, plans to progress the prison had not stopped.

“Despite the lack of some basic facilities, such as in-cell telephones and decent showers, there were ongoing efforts to improve the environment and to build on the already considerable work that had been done to make Risley a more respectful and safer place.

“However, the impact of lack of time unlocked for most prisoners some eight months since the start of the pandemic was a serious concern.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman told the Warrington Guardian: "Our measures have undoubtedly saved lives and this report rightly recognises the work of Risley’s staff, who have prioritised prisoners’ safety throughout the pandemic.

"We’ve provided in-cell education, activity packs and are rolling out in-cell telephones in the coming weeks."