Managing the pandemic in prisons

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Ministry of Justice – Activity on GOV.UK The quick and decisive action taken since the beginning of the pandemic has helped to limit the spread of the virus in prisons.

With national restrictions in place, prisons have introduced tougher measures to curb the spread of the new variant of the virus, help save lives and protect the NHS. These include:

  • Routinely testing all staff as well as new prisoners so we can better protect prisoners and those work in our prisons, as well as isolate those who test positive before they show symptoms
  • The roll-out of the vaccine, starting with the most vulnerable according to the priority list set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and in line with the national roll-out for the wider population

This is in addition to the stringent safety measures already in place to drive down Covid in prisons, save lives and protect local NHS from being overwhelmed, which Public Health England endorsed as being effective in limiting the spread of the virus, and which has meant the number of Covid-related deaths is significantly lower than predicted at the start of the pandemic.

This includes:

  • Making more Personal Protective Equipment available to staff who come into close contact with offenders, so they can protect themselves and the offenders in their care
  • Creating an additional 1,200 temporary cells and putting in place an effective system in all prisons and youth custody establishments to limit the spread of the disease so people are better able to social distance and we can limit transmission of the virus
  • Temporarily stopping social visits for adult prisoners in England and Wales in line with national restrictions. However, visits for compassionate reasons, visits to children in custody and legal visits which can’t take place remotely will continue

Prisoners will still be able to see friends and family via secure video calls, with this technology now in place in all jails. Staff are also helping offenders to keep in touch through phone calls, with more than 1,500 mobile handsets and extra phone credit, while specialist support is now available for those with mental health issues.

Specially trained staff have been going cell to cell to intensively support those with mental health issues, and officers have spent longer than ever simply speaking to prisoners – listening to their problems and anxieties.

Staff also continue to support prisoners with vital rehabilitation work, such as access to in-cell education and exercise, as they have throughout the pandemic. Education for children in custody will also continue.

Prisons Minister, Lucy Frazer QC MP, said:

We continue to take decisive action which is limiting the spread of the virus in our prisons. But the crucial factor is the tireless efforts of our dedicated officers working closely on the ground with outstanding NHS staff and public health experts.

I am proud of the staff, who are keeping prisoners safe and doing their best to keep them occupied with their innovative ideas.

Impressive work includes Covid cleaning teams at HMP Full Sutton which are keeping vulnerable offenders occupied and shared spaces safe.

At HMP Isis, in-cell workouts are keeping prisoners fit and at HMP Send a ‘Jail Mail’ scheme is allowing women to stay in touch with friends on different wings.

Just as the whole government is taking action to control the rapid spread of the virus in the wider population, we will double down on our efforts in jails, helped by the national roll-out of the vaccine.

As always, my priority remains to limit the spread of the virus to save lives and prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed.

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