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.

 

 

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

 

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

On Tuesday 28 April 2020 the government’s lawyers responded to our letter before claim threatening judicial review proceedings. The challenge centred on the Secretary of State for Justice’s failure to release people from prison despite the government’s announcement of 4 April 2020 that this was required in response to Covid-19.

Click 'read more' for the full story

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The Prison Service has now published guidance about prison releases in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Full details are included in documents called ‘End of Custody Temporary Release’ and ‘Covid-19: Use of Compassionate ROTL’ which can be found by clicking here.

We have summarised some of the key points of these policies, which you can read by clicking here.

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As the coordinator of Lancashire Women’s Enhanced Through The Gate (ETTG) services for women within HMP/YOI Styal, Therese Sanders knows that release from prison can be a very stressful time, both for those being released and their families. In normal times, Therese and her probation colleagues, who are all based within the prison, meet with women 12 weeks prior to their release to prepare them for settling back into the community and to address any specific needs they may have. But these are not normal times.

PRT associate Sarah Beresford examines the lack of information and communication about early release, and the impact it is having on people leaving prison, their families, and the organisations supporting them.

Click 'read more' to read her blog

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The two leading prison reform groups in the country have today (Friday 17 April) sent a formal letter before claim to the Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, over the government’s failure to respond effectively to the coronavirus pandemic in prisons.

The letter, from lawyers acting for the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Reform Trust, gives details of a proposed application for judicial review in relation to the Secretary of State’s response “to the obvious need…to substantially reduce the prison population to save lives and avoid a public health catastrophe both within prisons and beyond”.

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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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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.

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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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