HUNDREDS of inmates at Winchester prison are doubled up in cells designed to hold one person, figures reveal.

Ministry of Justice figures show that of the 577 prisoners at Winchester in 2018-19, 292 (51 per cent) were living in crowded conditions.

Of those, 273 were prisoners doubled up in a single-occupancy cell, while another 19 were living in cells with more than one other inmate.

Calls for action from human rights groups and a prisons watchdog came as the Ministry of Justice confirmed that 65 prisoners had tested positive for coronavirus in 23 different prisons, as of Monday March 31.

A person close to an inmate, who wishes to remain anonymous, told the Chronicle: “Terrible conditions since lockdown, poor quality food, less food. No sanitation, prison staff have no PPE.

“Prisoners have no point of contact for advice, no IMB reports getting done, some inmates aren’t receiving mental health help, there is a lack of medical care. Inmates feel like they are on a death sentence.”

Jails have been put on lockdown with all visits cancelled, however, it’s feared that overcrowding could lead to jails becoming overwhelmed by coronavirus.

Staff numbers are already stretched, with around 3,500 employees, representing about a tenth of the workforce, currently in self-isolation.

Nationally, the prison overcrowding rate fell to 22.5 per cent in 2019, from 24.2 per cent in 2018.

Crowding was particularly concentrated in male local prisons, such as Winchester, which serve a court in the local authority area and predominantly hold remand and short sentence prisoners.

The rate of crowding at Winchester in 2018-19 was down from 51.2 per cent in 2017-18. But a decade earlier, in 2008-09, the rate was 59.7 per cent.

The Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody said prisons should be only for “serious and violent offenders” at this time.

Juliet Lyon, IAPDC chairman, said: “In an unprecedented public health crisis, it is not fair or proportionate to commit prisoners, and staff responsible for them, to try to survive in insanitary, overcrowded institutions devoid currently of independent oversight.”

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “We have robust and flexible plans in place to protect the lives of our staff, prisoners and visitors, based on the latest advice from Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care.”

Pressure is being put on Justice Secretary Robert Buckland to allow convicted criminals to head home to prevent more deaths in England and Wales’ crowded prisons, after Northern Ireland signalled it would let out more than 10 per cent of those behind bars.