In courts and prisons, Covid-19 has made an already bad situation worse. Our society will suffer the consequences

“If you’ve got nothing to do, and you’re just watching telly and sleeping all day, it just ruins you,” is how one teenager described prison during the pandemic. Six months after emergency measures were introduced, evidence of serious problems across the justice system is mounting. Unquestionably, the severity of the situation facing courts and prisons now is the combined effect of the pandemic and a decade of cuts. Since 2010, the Ministry of Justice’s budget has shrunk by 40%. The inspectorate that monitors the Crown Prosecution Service warned in the summer that the growing backlog could take a decade to clear. In the crown court in England and Wales, it stood at 37,000 cases even before lockdown.

Warnings of “disturbing consequences” from the stoppage of face-to-face visits in children’s prisons, contained in a new report, are extremely worrying. Society simply cannot afford for the already poor prospects of this group of young people, a disproportionate number of whom come from black and ethnic-minority backgrounds, to get any worse. Yet this is the effect that disrupting their contact with relatives, and restricting learning time, is likely to have. At one young offender institution, Cookham Wood in Kent, inspectors found children allowed out of their cells for just 40 minutes a day.

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