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 is providing updates on the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in prisons each weekday. 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 represent the true scale of infection within the prison system. As such, these numbers should be treated with caution.

 

 

Supporting scrutiny of the government's response

As part of the Prison Reform Trust's continuing efforts to scrutinise the government's response to managing Covid-19 in our prisons we are sharing evidence with the House of Commons Justice Committee on a regular basis, drawn from our contact with people in prison and those working to support them during this exceptionally difficult time.

You can read all of our submissions below.

 May April
 21 May
 30 April
 14 May
 23 April
  16 April
  9 April
  2 April


Our action

Prison Reform Trust director Peter Dawson has submitted evidence to the House of Commons Justice Committee today, to assist in its role in scrutinising the government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

PRT will continue to regularly share evidence with the committee, drawn from our contact with people in prison and those working to support them during this exceptionally difficult time.

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The two leading prison reform groups in the country have today (Wednesday 8 April) written to the government again, urging ministers to move further and faster to reduce the prison population and avoid “an intolerable human cost in terms of the lives of both staff and prisoners”.

It is the second time this month that the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Reform Trust have written to the Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, about the outbreak of coronavirus in prisons in England and Wales.

Click 'read more' for the full story

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As we all adapt to the increased restrictions on our daily lives in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have turned to technology to help keep in touch with our loved ones at a time of enforced separation.

For people with a loved one in prison, this is an especially challenging time, with all prisons now closed to visitors. Keeping in touch is more important than ever in these circumstances, and the government has issued guidance to help families and friends to maintain their relationships during the lockdown.

Following discussion with families who currently have a loved one in prison, Prison Reform Trust associate Sarah Beresford reflects on the role that allowing greater use of virtual visits could play in helping people in prison and their loved ones through the Covid-19 pandemic, and beyond.

Click 'read more' to read her blog

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Commenting on today’s announcement (4 April) that some prisoners are to be temporarily released as part of efforts to tackle Covid-19, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“This is a welcome and substantial step in the right direction. Exceptional times require exceptional measures, and the public should be reassured that in this instance their protection is better served by carefully releasing some prisoners a few weeks early than by keeping them in. Prisons have never faced an emergency of this complexity or duration, and further measures will be needed in the weeks ahead. But this is a start, and the Lord Chancellor deserves credit for it.”

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The two leading prison reform groups in the country have called on the government to take further action to reduce the prison population in order to protect prisoners, staff and the wider public from coronavirus.

In an open letter, the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Reform Trust have warned the Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, that failure to act immediately could lead to loss of life on an unprecedented scale.

Click 'read more' for the full story

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In the light of government guidance and the current situation generally, PRT is running a reduced service for the time being.

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.

Media inquiries during office hours should be directed to alex.hewson@prisonreformtrust.org.uk. Out of hours media inquiries should be made by phone to 0207 689 7746 or 0207 689 7732.

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Commenting on the announcement by the Justice Secretary that the government is considering the early release of some prisoners in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“The risks of infection for people who live and work in prisons are acute, as the Justice Secretary has said. So while it is obviously right that the way of life in prisons should change dramatically, just as it has in the wider community, Robert Buckland is right to be considering forms of early release. In a chronically overcrowded system, this will help keep people safe by reducing the pressure on both space and staff resources. For this to work, there will need to be support to organisations, many of them charities, that help prisoners on release. And it’s vital that while creating some headroom through releases, the flow of people into prisons is also drastically reduced. That means not sending anyone to prison for all but the most serious alleged or proved offending, and not recalling people to prison in all but the most dangerous of circumstances.

There is no time to waste—just as in the community at large, suppressing the spread of the virus in prisons means taking decisive action sooner rather than later.”

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Commenting on the government’s decision to suspend social visits and increase the provision of phones in prisons, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“The suspension of social visits was always likely to be necessary for the safety of prisoners and visitors alike. The provision of more phones for prisoners to stay in contact with families is a welcome step in the right direction. As the situation develops, prisons will need to be alert to other opportunities to preserve the relationships on which all of us are relying in these difficult times.”

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HM Prison Service has announced that prisons in England and Wales are temporarily closed to visitors following government instructions for people to stay at home.

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

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Our work and response to Covid-19

17/03/2020 13:00:00

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. In light of the latest government advice we are taking measures to uphold our collective safety, whilst continuing to deliver vital services to those in prison.

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