This virus has swept through the country and sent the entire world in to a state of emergency, but the prison system seems to be forgotten when it comes to the big news stories reported throughout the UK…
This is where we want to help.
We want to be able to give you the news that matters to you.
So, let’s have a look at the current situation across our UK prisons.
How has it affected visitors so far?
So, as we know, all prisons have now gone into a lockdown period in order to prevent the spread of Covid19, this means that no visitors, of any sort, will be able to enter the prisons. This includes external workshops and additional education.
The prison estate seems to have tried to keep things open and running as normal as they can, for as long as possible, however, with the virus spreading as fast as it is, and the news from the Prime Minister on Monday stating that the UK must adhere to strict rules for 3 weeks, they had no choice but to enforce a lockdown.
Where is the virus spreading in UK prisons?
So far, 12 Prison staff, and 13 prisoners, have tested positive for the virus. The prisons effected at the moment are HMP Manchester, HMP High Down, HMP Kilmarnock, HMP Oakwood and HMP Birmingham, as of today, but this is rapidly changing as testing increases.
A total of 3,500 prison staff are currently self isolating, out of a total staff number of 27,000, but this figure is changing hourly.
What is happening to the prisoners?
Since the Prime Ministers announcement on Monday evening, entire prisons have been on complete lockdown. This means that prisoners will be spending the majority of their time in their cells, only allowed out to use the showers, and to exercise, however social distancing will be enforced heavily across the board.
Prisoners who are working within the prison, and who’s roles are key to the day to day running of the prisons, will be able to be out of their cells for longer periods, but, again, social distancing will be enforced.
What are the prisons putting in place?
Prisoners will also be allowed out of their cells to use the phones, where there are no phones within their cell, however, in the coming days there will be 900 mobile phones rolled out across 55 prisons, in a pledge to keep inmates connected to their family members and loved ones.
The phones will be used with secure SIM cards and allow prisoners to call all approved phone numbers. The phones will also allow access to the Samaritans if the prisoner needs, although they have no internet access.
The MOJ are also looking at introducing secure video calling contact for families, however, there is no additional information available as yet. We do know from a source that family contact is a “top priority”, so they are working tirelessly in order to get things like this available quickly.
There was some concerns that this sort of isolation procedure would cause some upset within the prisons. There has been a riot at HMP Addiewell, however the majority of prisons seem to have it all under control. Many prisoners understand that they need to comply in order to keep themselves safe, and visits have stopped with the aim to keep their families safe.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is an extremely difficult and worrying time for everyone and, while a lockdown in prisons may have been inevitable with wider community restrictions now in place, it is critically important that prisoners and their families are able to keep in touch.
She said it was also “vital” that prisoners were treated with compassion and engaged in purposeful activity while in their cells, adding: “Meanwhile, to protect the public, the government must start taking steps to reduce the number of people behind bars to ensure that prisons do not become breeding grounds for COVID-19.”
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