INFORMATION: COVID-19 IN PRISONS

HM Prison Service has announced that prisons in England and Wales are beginning the process of opening for visitors. Some prisons will be able to resume visits more quickly than others, and the government has cautioned that individual prisons will suspend visits if it is unsafe or if they are located in an area with enhanced community restrictions.

Read the full government guidance and how you can keep in touch with loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic by clicking here.

Find out what we're doing to help ensure that the lives of prisoners, staff and our community are protected during the pandemic by clicking here.

We have established an urgent new project—CAPPTIVE (The Covid Action Prison Project: Tracking Innovation, Valuing Experience). We want to hear from people in prison, and the people who care about them, about their own experience of the pandemic so far. Click here to find out how you can get involved. 

If you know of someone in prison in need of advice and information then click here for details on how they can get in contact with us.

The Ministry of Justice has also posted a Q&A for friends and family of people in prison which you can read by clicking here.

If you are concerned about a person in prison and would like support yourself, click here for details on how to contact the Prisoners' Families Helpline.

The prison service has published guidance about prison releases in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which you can read by clicking here. We have produced a summary of some of the key points, which you can read by clicking here.

The Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody (IAP) has created a Coronavirus Information Hub. This brings together the latest information and responses from the IAP and other national and international sources, on protecting the lives of people in state custody during this unprecedented pandemic.



NEWS

The Prison Reform Trust hosted a webinar on Friday 19 February to share the findings of our new report, No Life, No Freedom, No Future, highlighting the experiences of prisoners recalled under the sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP).

For those that missed the event the webinar can be viewed on YouTube by clicking here, and the accompanying slides can be viewed by clicking here.

Many thanks to our speakers Peter Dawson, Dr Mia Harris, Dr Kimmett Edgar, Russell Webster and Marc Conway, as well as to the 140 attendees.

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People in prison have revealed the devastating impact of Covid-19 restrictions on their mental health and wellbeing, in a briefing launched today by the Prison Reform Trust which examines the issue of prisoners’ health during the pandemic.

Based on evidence received from prisoners and their families from June to the present day, the briefing highlights the consequences for prisoners of being locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day for the past 10 months under conditions which amount to “prolonged solitary confinement”.

It also highlights measures taken by prisons which had made the situation more bearable. These include kindness and empathy from staff, access to exercise and other activities, mental health support, good communications and effective precautions against the disease.

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The prison service has “regressed” in its efforts to tackle racial inequality, a leading expert on equality and diversity in the criminal justice system has warned.

Writing in the latest edition of the Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefing Prison Factfile, Beverley Thompson OBE, a former senior civil servant and Race Equality Advisor (2004 – 2009) at HM Prison Service, says that “many in the prison service have either lost commitment and direction from their leadership or their organisational expertise and energy is depleted—seeking comfort instead from the dangerous mantra that ‘race has been done’.”

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Commenting on the announcement by the Ministry of Justice that the rule which currently requires all parole hearings to be held in private will be relaxed, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“We are disappointed that the government has decided to press ahead with its plan for some parole hearings to be held in public. There is a clear expectation that the Board will only agree to public hearings rarely, however, and there is now a further process of consultation required to devise the procedural rules which will be needed to safeguard a fair process. Part of this must include whether the Board has the necessary independence and powers to ensure its decision making is not subject to political interference.

“No other aspect of the ‘root and branch’ review of parole has yet been made subject to consultation, and we can only hope that the review will now turn its attention to the question of why so few people are released on their parole eligibility date. The key issues are not about the Parole Board but about the prison and probation systems on which prisoners rely in order to be safely released in the first place, and to make a successful return to the community when they are.”

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We wrote to the Lord Chancellor just before Christmas complaining about the wholly improper comment from an unnamed government source in a Daily Telegraph article about “Helen’s Law”. That law puts into statute an existing Parole Board policy and practice of taking into account any refusal to disclose the whereabouts of a victim’s body. The quote from the source implied an obvious threat to the Board’s future standing if it took decisions in such cases that appeared to go against public opinion—quite plainly not what the law requires and not what the Parole Board is for.

We have now received a response from the prisons minister. The response ignores the specific complaint, but does give a clear commitment to the board’s continuing independence. It sheds no further light on how the current “root and branch” review of parole is being led or conducted, however, and the history of internal MoJ reviews in this area does little to reassure.

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