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Original Research

Open Access Special Issue

Locked Up and Locked Down: How the Covid-19 Pandemic has Impacted the Mental Health of Male Prisoners and Support Staff

  • Radha Kothari1,2,*,
  • Jo Sparrow2,3,
  • Jon Henshall2,4,
  • Daniel Buchan5
  • John Kemp6
  • Amanda Owen2
  • Ian Blakeman6
  • Natasha Sarkissian2

1Health in Justice, Central and North West London Foundation Trust, National Health Service, SM2 5PJ Surrey, UK

2North London Forensic Services, Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Trust, National Health Service, N7 8TT London, UK

3London Pathways Partnership, National Health Service, SW2 5XF London, UK

4NHS Forth Valley, FK2 0AB Scotland, UK

5Goldsmith’s College, University of London, SW14 6NW London, UK

6Her Majesties Prison and Probation Service, HMP Pentonville, N7 8TT London, UK

DOI: 10.31083/j.jomh1806141 Vol.18,Issue 6,June 2022 pp.1-25

Submitted: 08 November 2021 Accepted: 14 February 2022

Published: 30 June 2022

(This article belongs to the Special Issue COVID-19 impact on men's mental health)

*Corresponding Author(s): Radha Kothari E-mail:


Background: The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on prisons across the world has been of much concern due to the increased risk of virus spread among a particularly vulnerable population. Efforts made to prevent spread of the virus have resulted in a range of restrictive measures with the aim of reducing contact between prisoners and staff. Unfortunately, restrictions have also resulted in increased time confined to cells, reduced occupation, and restricted access to services. The potential impact of this on a population that already presents with high rates of mental health difficulties requires consideration. Male prisoners may be at particularly high risk of experiencing negative outcomes. Methods: This study evaluated the impact of the pandemic and related changes upon the mental health of prisoners and staff within a male urban prison in the United Kingdom. A mixed methods approach with a convergent parallel design was used. Correlational and feature selection analysis was conducted on quantitative data. Qualitative data were subject to a thematic analysis. Findings were integrated at the point of summary and interpretation. Results: Prisoners and staff reported finding it hard to cope with changes and stressors associated with the pandemic. For prisoners, time spent locked in one’s cell with limited access to activities and support was associated with poor mental health outcomes, and salient themes emerged of feeling trapped, isolated and neglected. For staff, concerns about prisoner welfare and worry about catching the virus was associated with increased anxiety and worry. Additionally finding it hard to cope with constant changes at work and reduced staffing resulted in unhealthy coping behaviours such as drinking and smoking. Conclusions: Findings suggest that the implementation of additional restrictions, within the already restricted prison environment, has had a significant negative impact on the mental health of both prisoners and staff. The potential long-term mental health difficulties resulting from this require further investigation, as does the likely negative impact on staff wellbeing and staff turnover. The effects of the pandemic appear to have heightened an already desperate need to consider the mental health and wellbeing of prisoners and prison staff which must be urgently addressed.


Covid-19; pandemic; prison staff; prisoner; prison inmate; mental health; psychological wellbeing

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Radha Kothari,Jo Sparrow,Jon Henshall,Daniel Buchan,John Kemp,Amanda Owen,Ian Blakeman,Natasha Sarkissian. Locked Up and Locked Down: How the Covid-19 Pandemic has Impacted the Mental Health of Male Prisoners and Support Staff. Journal of Men's Health. 2022. 18(6);1-25.


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