Tackling the spread of coronavirus in prison

Like all organisations and individuals the Prison Reform Trust has been closely monitoring the developments and government advice following the Covid-19 outbreak. The safety of those who live and work in our prisons and that of PRT staff is our priority.

Whilst the focus for government and our prisons will rightly be on how best to respond to Covid-19, the Prison Reform Trust continues to have an important role to monitor as best we can how people in prison and their families are being looked after, and to be as constructive and imaginative as possible in suggesting ideas for mitigating their suffering.

Everything good about government action in tackling this emergency has been characterised by being early and decisive. On prisons, by contrast, it is a story of too little, too late. The scientific and operational advice couldn’t be clearer – if ministers are serious about following it, they must go much further, and do it now.

In this section, you can find out how we are responding to the pandemic, and what we're doing to help ensure that the lives of prisoners, staff and our community are protected during this period of unprecedented challenge.


Getting help

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.


Confirmed cases

The Ministry of Justice provides updates on the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in prisons each week as well as producing a monthly summary. However, Public Health England has reported that access to testing for prisoners across the estate has been limited and variable. Therefore, the number of confirmed cases reported does not necessarily represent the true scale of infection within the prison system. As such, these numbers should be treated with caution.

 

 

Covid-19 prisons project—CAPPTIVE

The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically affected the lives of prisoners, their families and those that work in prison. Widescale lockdown with people held in cells for up to 23 and a half hours a day, as well as the suspension of family visits since March have placed an immense strain on prisoners and their loved ones during this unprecedented time.

In response, we have established an urgent new project—CAPPTIVE (The Covid Action Prison Project: Tracking Innovation, Valuing Experience) to hear from people in prison, and the people who care about them, about their own experience of the pandemic, and to ensure that prisoners’ voices are heard in the discussions amongst wider society about what our lives will look like after the pandemic.

Contributions to the project from prisoners, family members and the organisations that support them are informing a series of rapid review reports that will be vital in ensuring we have the evidence to continue our work effectively both now and in the future.

These reports will bring the direct experiences, insights and ideas for change to the attention of those who most need to hear them, in Parliament, in the Ministry of Justice and the prison service.

 

Reports

Briefing 1—Families and communications

Briefing 2—Regimes, reactions to the pandemic, and progression

Briefing 3—Healthcare

 

Get involved

We’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to the CAPPTIVE project so far. As part of our continuing work on the CAPPTIVE project, we would like to invite people with lived experience of imprisonment to continue submitting their responses on the following topics:

  • Black, Minority Ethnic and Muslim experience of prison during the Covid ‘double lockdown’;

  • Women in prison; and

  • Innovative practices witnessed in the prison estate.

Prisoners, family members and organisations that support them can contribute their experiences and thoughts using the contact details below.

 Post
 Prisoner Policy Network c/o
 Prison Reform Trust FREEPOST ND 6125
 London EC1B 1PN
 Email ppn@prisonreformtrust.org.uk

 

Our action

Writing for the i our Head of Research, Dr Kimmett Edgar outlines the extraordinary conditions that people in prison have been held in during the last 12 months, and questions why the government are intent on introducing new sentencing measures which even its own minister admits are unevidenced.

Click 'read more' to read the full article

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The pandemic: One year on

24/03/2021 09:00:00

Today marks a year since the announcement that prisons in England and Wales were to temporarily close to visitors, following government instructions for people to stay at home.

At that time, few could have imagined that the dramatic restrictions, introduced to safeguard against the predicted widespread loss of life in prisons, would still be in place a year on.

Our CAPPTIVE project, created in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, has heard from hundreds of people in prison about the reality of daily life and near total isolation behind cell doors for the last 12 months.

The stoicism and solidarity between prisoners and staff, often under intolerable pressures, have provided light in the darkness. But nothing can dull the pain of full days spent in isolation and inactivity.

No-one yet knows what the lasting damage to people’s mental and physical health of that unprecedented regime will be. As the lockdown in prisons has stretched on— whilst the wider community outside looks ahead to the easing of restrictions—those in prison remain fearful and unsure of what the future holds.

Prisons will face huge challenges as they work to re-establish normal regimes. But one thing the pandemic has shown is that rehabilitation and public safety don’t come from locking people up in 9 by 6ft cells all day, every day. These come only from a way of life in prison that allows relationships between staff and prisoners to form and for trust to be built.

As we mark this most unhappy of anniversaries the Prison Reform Trust remains here for people in prison and their families at this extraordinary time, and will continue to be there for as long as it takes.

You can find out more about our work during the pandemic by clicking here.

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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.

Click 'read more for the full story

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Commenting on the findings of today’s (11 February) thematic report on the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown in prisons by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“The Chief Inspector’s report shines a light on the hidden suffering Covid-19 has caused in prisons. Saving lives has come at a huge price for prisoners and their families.

“For all the heroic efforts of prison managers and staff, we should remember that their task has been made harder by the overcrowded and dilapidated condition of our prisons before the pandemic began. It is inexplicable that ministers will shortly introduce legislation that will inflate our prison population still further, knowing what the people who live and work in prisons have had to endure over the last year.”

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The Prison Reform Trust and Howard League for Penal Reform have received a brief response to our letter to the Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, requesting details of the ministry’s plans ahead of an expected increase in people being sent to prison as courts start to resume normal business.

For all the billions that have been promised for new prisons, it is clear that there is no plan for a prison estate free of overcrowding, despite the misery people have suffered during  the pandemic in prisons holding too many people too close together.

Click here to read his response.

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We were pleased to receive a response from the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland this week to our joint letter with the Howard League of 13 October.

His response is full and quite detailed. It shows that the prison service has made a thorough and genuine attempt to quickly learn the lessons from its initial response to the pandemic in the spring. It has done so not just through its own research but by taking on board what we in our CAPPTIVE reports(1)(2), and many other organisations, have been telling it. No-one is pretending that everything is as we would want it, and the adjusted approach the prison service wants to take now is dependent on staffing and on how the virus progresses in individual prisons and in the community. But we can point to some significant improvements at least in what the prison service is trying to deliver.

Click 'read more' for the full story.

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The Prison Reform Trust and the Howard League for Penal Reform have written to the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland today in the light of the rapidly developing situation in prisons in relation to outbreaks of Covid-19.

The letter calls for greater transparency, to ensure that prisoners and their families are able to understand the basis on which decisions are being taken, including the publication of evidence and advice received by ministers on the risks of transmission in prisons; and the different measures taken to contain the spread of Covid-19.

It also highlights a number of policy decisions which the charities believe could and should be taken now to reassure prisoners and their families about the difficult months ahead.

Click 'read more' to see a copy of our letter and to read the full story

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Lockdown conditions in prisons have effectively ended opportunities for prisoners to take part in rehabilitation activities and progress in their sentences.

For the nearly 11,000 prisoners serving indeterminate sentences (9,000 unreleased; 2,000 recalled), this could lead to them spending significantly longer in prison than they might have otherwise. This is because they may be unable to demonstrate to the Parole Board that they have taken part in activities to reduce their risk.

A further 5,815 people serving extended determinate sentences, whose release is dependent on the Parole Board up until the end of their custodial term, could also find themselves spending longer in prison because of a lack of access to rehabilitation.

The uncertainty is leading to increasing despair and hopelessness and putting a significant strain on the mental health and wellbeing of prisoners, already suffering as a result of lockdown conditions, a new briefing by the Prison Reform Trust reveals.

Click 'read more' for the full story

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Commenting on the findings of today’s report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“This vital report shows that the measures prisons have taken to contain Covid-19 are not sustainable. As we face the prospect of a rise in infections during the autumn, prisons have been left facing the same fundamental problem as when the pandemic first took hold. There are too many prisoners for the space available. The government has wilfully set its face against the safe reduction in prison numbers which would allow the more flexible and humane response the Chief Inspector is calling for. As numbers going through the court system increase, it will be prisoners and their families who pay the price of that failure to plan ahead.”

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Following the publication of the first report of our new CAPPTIVE project, established in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the prisons minister Lucy Frazer has written to the Prison Reform Trust to welcome its findings.

In her response she endorses the value of listening to prisoners and their families, and their involvement in how prisons organise their response to the pandemic. This is welcome, as we know the best prisons already do this because they have seen the value it brings.

As the CAPPTIVE project continues at pace, we will continue to tell her directly what prisoners and their families are telling us.

Click here to read the letter.

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