Over recent days we have received many emails and telephone calls from members of the sector working in prisons concerned about:
- What action they should be taking to ensure their staff and volunteers stay well and minimise the potential spread of the virus within the prison estate
- What changes may be made to prison regimes and services which could affect their services, staff, volunteers and beneficiaries.
We know how importantly the sector treats its work and its duty of care to its staff, volunteers and beneficiaries and we have been working closely with Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) to make sure your concerns are heard and help find answers.
I wanted to use this blog to share some key information updates that help to respond to these queries and provide information about an additional service we have agreed to put in place, with HMPPS, to help manage further queries.
Statement by Prisons Minister, Lucy Frazer QC MP
The Prisons Minister Lucy Frazer has today (13 March) issued a statement on preparedness to deal with coronavirus (COVID-19) in prisons. In this she says,
“Prisons have existing, well-developed policies and procedures in place to manage outbreaks of infectious diseases. This means prisons are well prepared to take immediate action whenever cases or suspected cases are identified, including isolating individuals where necessary.
We understand that prisoners and their loved ones might be concerned about the situation. But we can assure them that we will continue to operate normal regimes, with the minimum disruption, for as long as we can. This will include visits to prisoners but, in line with Public Health advice for the general public, we urge any friend or family member not to come to a prison for visit if they have any symptoms associated with COVID-19 - a fever or new, persistent cough. We are also looking into ways to keep prisoners in close contact with their families in all eventualities, and will share further information as and when necessary.”
Guidance on Coronavirus (Covid-19) and prisons
In addition to the statement from Lucy Frazer, new guidance has been published on GOV.UK with advice for visitors to prisons. The advice covers information for those visiting prisons, a reminder of different ways to keep in touch with prisoners and advice for families and visitors if they have concerns over someone in prison. It confirms that prisons will continue to operate normally, with the minimum of disruption, for as long as possible, as well as providing guidance about when visitors should stay at home.
In last week’s Light Lunch we informed subscribers that HMPPS has issued guidance on coronavirus (COVID-19) for staff in prisons, probation areas and approved premises. Anyone providing a commissioned service should have received this guidance directly from the establishment they work in. If you have not yet received this guidance you should contact your local sponsor or link person within your establishment or probation area (this may be your commercial lead or operational contract manager) who should be able to answer any specific questions you might have.
Further information for voluntary sector organisations
We are aware that the sector will have questions about the effect on their operations or the information they should provide to service users. You should speak to your local sponsor or link person within the establishments or probation areas that you work in in the first instance.
If however you have concerns or have a specific question that you are struggling to have answered, together with HMPPS, we have set up a dedicated mailbox for criminal justice organisations' COVID-19 related questions email@example.com. We will endeavour to answer as many of these as we can, together with HMPPS, and plan to develop some specific FAQs for the most commonly received.
We hope this provides answers to some of the sector’s questions at this time. Please keep an eye on Light Lunch for further updates and use the dedicated mailbox firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes from the Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3) Special Interest Group on Covid-19
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We are extremely disappointed that the JCVI advice on phase 2 of the COVID vaccination programme does not prioritise people in prison and those who work with them, including voluntary sector staff and volunteers https://gov.uk/government/publications/priority-groups-for-phase-2-of-the-coronavirus-covid-19-vaccination-programme-advice-from-the-jcvi/jcvi-interim-statement-on-phase-2-of-the-covid-19-vaccination-programme