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:

  • Many more in-cell phones.

  • More and better PPE for staff and prisoners.

  • More testing of both staff and prisoners.

  • Continuation of compassionate release, albeit in a small number of cases.

  • Continuation of phone credit, free video calls and compassionate iPad access.

  • Updating its website with the latest information.

  • Proposed weekly public bulletin.

  • More local discretion and a policy of keeping more regime activities running where a prison is able to do so.

  • Better policy intentions on face to face education and visits for children.

  • Acknowledgement of the priority for people coming up to parole.

What the Lord Chancellor’s letter did not do, however, was answer the question about planning for the moment when prison numbers start to rise again, as courts reduce their backlog, and the government’s 20,000 extra police staff start to hit the streets.

The case for an early release scheme is still overwhelming, so we have written back to the Lord Chancellor asking him to set out what his plan is to avoid the all too predictable next crisis on prison numbers. You can read that letter by clicking here.

Peter Dawson