This blog gives an update from Jo Farrar, CEO of Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), on the government’s plans for how prisons and probation will start to recover from the restrictions imposed in response to coronavirus. It accompanies the publication of two key documents detailing HMPPS’s approach to lifting temporary regimes in prisons and probation.
As you know, over recent weeks, we have had to make fundamental changes to the way that we run prisons, the probation service and the youth estate.
As a result of the strong and comprehensive measures that we have taken, lives have been saved and the NHS is being protected from the impact of widespread local outbreaks. However, we recognise the impact that these restrictions have had on our hard-working staff, service users and their families.
Following the government’s announcements over recent days about removing restrictions in broader society, it is important that we now consider the cautious and incremental easing of restrictions where possible. HMPPS has published two key documents that, in the coming months, will shape our approach to lifting the temporary regimes.
National framework for prison regimes and services
The framework provides a conditional roadmap for what the easing of restrictions will mean in practice and a summary of how prisons and youth custody establishments will operate as restrictions are carefully and gradually lifted.
Our priority remains ensuring that we provide a safe environment for staff and the people in our care. Our decision-making will continue to be driven by data and evidence and to be informed by public health advice. The framework sets out how decisions will be based on three core objectives:
Preservation of life: To continue to protect our staff, the public, and those in our care by minimising deaths and hospitalisations, ensuring continued access to healthcare, and protecting the NHS from explosive outbreaks.
Maintain security, stability and safety, in the broadest sense: To ensure the ongoing stability and safety of the estate, including the risk of disorder, violence, suicide and self-harm or escapes. We will maintain sufficient staff confidence to deliver regimes and rehabilitative activities as intended and continue to protect the public. This is crucial to safeguarding the mental and physical health of staff and those in our care.
Provide sufficient capacity: Ensuring that we have enough space to receive from the courts and sufficient capacity to meet overall demand, as well as sufficient staffing and resources to run establishments.
Over the coming weeks and months, we will look to restart aspects of daily prison life, with adaptations where necessary to ensure safety.
National guidance will ensure there is consistency in decision-making, establishing a consistent basis for governors to make decisions, whilst allowing flexibility to accommodate the very different circumstances and situations of different establishments. As a result, progress is likely to be uneven across the estate and individual prisons and youth custody establishments will ease restrictions at their own speed, taking full account of their specific circumstances.
Prisons remain high risk environments, so the timing of changes may not mirror developments in broader society. Equally, progress may be non-linear, with restrictions re-imposed in the event of local outbreaks.
It is important to recognise that the framework is not intended to cover operational detail.
Updated Exceptional Delivery Models will be produced over the weeks ahead to provide detailed guidance about the measures that need to be taken, at each stage, to ensure the safe and secure delivery of services.
Probation roadmap to recovery
The overall approach to recovery in probation will continue to prioritise victim and public protection, risk management and rehabilitation, ensuring we continue to deliver our core functions and focusing resources on our highest risk service users.
We will move forward with caution and in step with government and public health advice, taking into account any differences across England and Wales. We will also be prepared to move back a step should this be required in light of further outbreaks on a local or national basis.
Before we ease any contingency measures, three important considerations need to be in place – robust arrangements for social distancing and hand-washing; sufficient PPE for staff and service users; and ensuring staff can continue to access testing if they display Covid-19 symptoms.
A national recovery board has been established to oversee and co-ordinate the core activities across the probation system. Local probation boards will also be established across the twelve probation regions to take forward recovery work. We will continue to work with all our criminal justice partners to share and align recovery plans.
When we are in a position to move to the next step we plan to reduce the use of doorstep visits and increase face to face contact where possible for priority cases. Whilst some offices will remain closed, flexible opening hours will be introduced to allow for a greater number of appointments within social distancing guidelines.
Court work will gradually be scaled up and we plan to restart unpaid work, interventions and probation programmes, at first on a limited basis, where it is assessed as safe. We will continue to encourage staff to work from home during this period.
When the government’s assessment of the risk of coronavirus confirms we can make further changes we would then look to extend these measures, opening the remaining offices and restarting unpaid work and interventions on a larger scale. We would also restart training and other associated activities.
The next steps
Our aim is to continue to work collaboratively with our partners, as well as engaging staff, as we develop and deliver further detailed guidance in specific areas of policy.
We also recognise that, as we enter the Recovery phase, we will have opportunities to deliver services differently and to learn from our experiences of dealing with Covid-19. Across our services, we are looking at how we can build this learning into our services to ensure that we work towards a ‘new normal’.
Finally, I would like to pay tribute to everyone working in prisons, probation and the youth estate whose dedication has helped to limit the impact of Covid-19 and to keep the people in our care and under our supervision safe.
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