This blog aims to highlight important information from the National Framework for Prison Regimes and Services.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) are starting to shift their attention to how the lockdown in prisons will be gradually lifted whilst continuing to keep both prisoners and staff as protected from Covid-19 as is possible.
Clinks has a dedicated line of communication with HMPPS who has shared its recovery planning thinking with us to ensure that we can give all voluntary organisations working in the criminal justice system the latest and most accurate information.
We’ve also published an update from Jo Farrar, CEO of HMPPS, on the government’s plans for how prisons and probation will start to recover from the restrictions imposed in response to coronavirus. We've also published a blog which summarises key information on the roadmap to recovery for probation services.
Readers will know that the strategy to protect prisoners and staff from coronavirus involves three main tactics:
1. Restricting regimes to implement social distancing
2. Limiting movement of prisoners between prisons
3. Compartmentalising the estate to isolate symptomatic prisoners, shield the vulnerable, and quarantine new entrants.
The Framework acknowledges that we will have to live with Covid-19 for a long time and says that the focus is on making progress towards a “new normal” rather than simply returning to how things were. It sets out three guiding principles for this journey:
1. Preservation of life: To continue to protect our staff, the public, and offenders in our care by minimising deaths and hospitalisations, ensuring continued access to healthcare, and protecting the NHS from explosive outbreaks.
2. 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, escapes, protecting the public, and sufficient staff confidence to deliver regimes and rehabilitative activities as intended.
3. 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.
HMPPS also highlights that there are many vulnerable prisoners who will need continued shielding, that different establishments will face different challenges and that the opening up of such core components of prison life as education, work and social visits is likely to be slow and incremental.
As the government has for the wider community, HMPPS has constructed a five stage coronavirus alert system for prison regimes. The stages are:
Stage 5 | Complete lockdown – regime is focused purely on the preservation of life.
Stage 4 | Lockdown – minimum required regime in place to ensure safety and decency, receptions from courts for some prisons, but routine inter-prison transfers stopped and controlled.
Stage 3 | Restrict – compartmentalisation remains in place, testing and monitoring ongoing, social distancing applied and PPE in use. Visits and offending behaviour work can start to be reinstated with appropriate restrictions.
Stage 2 | Reduce – compartmentalisation remains in place, testing and monitoring ongoing, minimal social distancing applied. Reintroduction of classroom-based education, more workshops, indoor PE, communal worship and less restrictive adaptations.
Stage 1 | Prepare – ongoing screening, testing and monitoring. Regimes operating without requirements for social distancing or PPE use.
Due to the different factors that present in the secure environment and the need to be responsive to local conditions, different prisons will be assessed as being ready for different regime stages and move in different directions over time.
In order to manage these different stages, HMPPS will publish updated guidance including Exceptional Delivery Models (EDMs) for individual areas of the prison regime, covering how to deliver aspects of the regime at every stage.
Clinks has encouraged HMPPS to consider how the voluntary sector might be engaged in the processes for determining whether a prison moves to a new stage. Many of the fundamental changes that will take place within a regime as it moves between stages will be dependent on voluntary sector organisations remobilising their services (family visits, through-the-gate and other rehabilitative and resettlement services, educational classes etc.). Therefore, voluntary organisations must be engaged in readiness assessments before a new stage is implemented to assess whether they feel able and safe to deliver their services.
The framework sets out a substantial amount of information that is being collated centrally as part of the reporting, monitoring and assurance processes. Clinks has made representations that this information should be made available to voluntary sector organisations where appropriate to enable them to engage in discussions about moving between stages and to remobilise their services accordingly.
Similarly, once a new stage has been set, Clinks has advocated for voluntary organisations being involved in implementing the changes set out in the EDMs. We have asked that governors engage voluntary sector services early in their planning for implementing EDMs, with regard to how services will be remobilised and which services are prioritised. To enable this, Clinks has also encouraged HMPPS to engage with the relevant parts of our sector in the development of the EDMs, in particular those relating to family services, education, through-the-gate and other rehabilitative and resettlement activity, as many of these organisations will be key to the delivery of the EDMs. We have suggested that this could be facilitated through the Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3) Special Interest Group on Covid-19 with the potential to co-opt other organisations where necessary.
Finally, Clinks recognises that in some cases there will be very good reasons for prisons being much slower to loosen than wider society, and for individual prisons to move back to an earlier stage. However, we have strongly urged that these changes are communicated clearly to people in prison and their families to legitimise these conditions in prison while lockdown is loosened in the community.
We have suggested that HMPPS engages the voluntary sector to ensure that this information is communicated promptly and accurately to prisoners and their families and friends.