A Society of Captives Locked Down - A study of what happened at Her Majesty's Prison The Mount during the COVID-19 pandemic

Project: Consultancy

Project Details


This study was commissioned by the Governor of HMP The Mount to examine what happened at the prison during the COVID-19 pandemic to inform the management of the prison and plans for the wider prison service post-pandemic

Layman's description

This report presents an account of what happened at HMP The Mount during the COVID-19 pandemic from March 2020 to July 2021. The findings are derived from research undertaken by Professors Hardwick and Meek at Royal Holloway University of London at the invitation of the Governing Governor. We set out to investigate what lessons can be learnt from the experience of the prison in the period of restricted regimes and visits during the pandemic that should inform the future management of HMP The Mount and may be applicable to other prisons.

The research hypothesis is that some prisons have fared better than others in this period. In these prisons measures to mitigate the adverse impact of the lockdown may have worked better than expected and may offer lessons about how the quality of time in and out of cell can be improved. The Governor of The Mount believes this is true of her prison. The research aims to test this hypothesis and investigate whether that there are relevant lessons that can be applied after the pandemic has eased. Our research focussed on the prison regime or what happens on the wings. It does not specifically address important issues of resettlement or the quality and delivery of important services such as health care and education, other than where those matters affected the regime.

Key findings

This report confirms that the leadership and staff of The Mount deserve great credit for keeping prisoners safe during the pandemic. No prisoner died at the Mount from COVID-19 related causes and this was a major achievement. The cost of this achievement was high. In order to prevent the spread of infection the prison endured three periods of complete lockdown when most prisoners were outside their cells for just one hour a day and even outside these periods time out of cell and activities were severely restricted. The lockdown clearly had a detrimental effect on prisoners but the restricted regime also created stability following a troubled period for the prison before the pandemic and the resulting reduction in the drug trade, violence and tension was reflected in reduced self-harm rates during periods of lockdown. In addition, the effects of the lockdown were mitigated to some extent by measures the prison took to support all prisoners in their cells and the targeted monitoring and support of the most vulnerable prisoners.

We are clear that overall our findings support the senior leadership of the prison's view that there should be no return to unmanaged free flow and association but there should be a focus on maximising controlled and purposeful activity out of cell alongside measures to improve the quality of time that prisoners spend in their cells and the support available to them there. We agree that the senior leadership need greater autonomy to advance this agenda as quickly and safely as possible and greater reliance should be placed on their detailed knowledge of the specific circumstance of The Mount in determining the pace with which restrictions can be lifted.
Effective start/end date1/12/2013/08/21