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

Briefing 4—Women

 

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

Commenting on the findings of today’s (17 May) Criminal Justice Joint Inspection report, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“This report exposes as a complete fallacy the idea that the criminal justice system is back to ‘normal’, or anything close to it. In prisons, the Covid crisis has simply morphed into a wholly predictable staffing crisis. The outcome for prisoners is the same — endless days spent behind a cell door, with all the disastrous consequences for both health and public protection that the report sets out.

“In that context, the government’s insatiable appetite to have ever more people in prison is more irrational than ever. The report correctly remembers that the justice system was on its knees before the pandemic struck. What it needs now is fundamental reform, not an obsession with simply looking tougher than your political opponents.”

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The Prison Reform Trust along with 19 organisations and individuals working in criminal justice and healthcare have sent a joint letter to the Secretaries of State for Health and Justice, Sajid Javid and Dominic Raab—two years since the prison service introduced a full lockdown with severely restricted regimes in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The letter calls for:

  • immediate additional mental health support for prisoners;
  • individual mental and physical health checks for everyone in custody; and
  • support for frontline health and justice staff.

It also strongly advises that a thorough review of the impact of the pandemic on the mental and physical health of people in prison is conducted.

A similar letter has also been sent to the respective ministers and healthcare officials in Wales.

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The National Preventive Mechanism—21 independent bodies which have powers to visit and report on all places of detention across the UK—has published its annual report focusing on the impact of Covid-19, and the measures which were introduced to limit its spread. It reveals that restrictions have had an impact on prisoners' mental health, including a rise in mental health referrals and a sharp increase in self-harm by women. It also confirms that isolating prisoners were “being kept in conditions that meet the widely accepted definition of solitary confinement” prohibited under the Nelson Mandela Rules.

Click here to read the full report.

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Women 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.

Based on evidence from women in prison from May 2020 to May 2021, as well as supporting evidence from HM Inspectorate of Prisons and other sources, the briefing looks at women’s experiences of prison during the first and second waves of the pandemic.

Click 'read more' for the full story

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Prison Reform Trust director, Peter Dawson has written to Jo Farrar, CEO of HM Prison and Probation Service and Second Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, to highlight the confusion surrounding plans to reform prison conditions.

The Daily Mail reported last month that a Ministry of Justice “source” expected a White Paper on prisons to be published later this year, and offered a simplistic and misleading summary of what might be learned from the experience of prisoners over the last 15 months.

In the letter, Peter Dawson writes:

“We are only too pleased to work closely with officials as policy is developed…and in particular to help the department hear from prisoners. But we are deeply suspicious of these constructive and candid conversations being presented as a sufficient process to inform a White Paper on prisons, especially when the press is being fed what appears to be advance notice of a policy decision to reduce the time prisoners will spend unlocked."

Click 'read more' for the full story

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Prisoner numbers in England and Wales are projected to rise by one quarter (20,000) over the next five years. But there are no plans either to reduce overcrowding or close prisons that are clearly unfit for purpose. Efforts by the prison service to recover from the impact of the global pandemic will be fatally undermined as a result, according to a new report published today (5 July 2021) by the Prison Reform Trust. 

The report, Prison: the facts, highlights Ministry of Justice prison population projections that predict a rise to 98,700 people from the current level of 77,912 (4 June 2021) by 2026. This is due to the impact of inflationary sentencing policies, including proposals in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill currently before Parliament, the recruitment of 20,000 police officers, which is expected to increase charge volumes, and the recovery of the courts as Covid-19 restrictions subside.

Click 'read more' for the full story

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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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