Updated on: 17 June 2020
Mirroring community measures, each establishment introduced prisoner house-holds consisting of groups of prisoners sharing a cell or dormitory. Close contact between prisoners sharing a cell is inevitable and social distancing (the requirement to remain two metres apart at all times) cannot be achieved within a cell environment. Therefore prisoners sharing a cell must do as members of a house-hold are required to do in the community – if one family member becomes symptomatic, all must isolate themselves for a period of fourteen days to prevent them transmitting the virus to others. Beyond this establishments also introduced regime groups – grouping prisoners together into small cohorts that would be unlocked together for meals, medications, welfare services (including time in the open air and access to showers) and family contact (access to wing phones or temporary in-cell telephony). Each cohort was designed to be sufficient size to enable all prisoners to have fair access to regime across the core day and week but to ensure social distancing could be maintained during all aspects of the restricted regime.
As of 31 March 2020, a new model was introduced governing Inter-Prions Transfers (IPT) reducing movements between prisons. Responsibility for all prisoner movements reverted to Gold Command from the end of March. All IPTs were suspended except for cases that met exceptional circumstances. Any establishment wanting to transfer a prisoner must now submit representations to Gold Command and satisfy the exceptional circumstances criteria listed below. Small numbers of transfers are being approved but movements have been greatly reduced. Exceptional circumstances critiera are listed below:
Under a further revision on 14th April 2020, additional transfers of small groups of prisoners (“drafts”) were reintroduced on a limited basis where such moves were required to alleviate population pressures in individual sites or regions. This has particularly supported Reception Prisons which continue to serve courts that remained open, therefore have continued to receive new prisoners on a regular basis. As part of the strategy, prisoners who are symptomatic or those in isolation having been in close proximity to a symptomatic person cannot be transferred under any circumstances. Prisoners in the most vulnerable cohort who are shielding for their own protection – as explained in the next section – can also not be transferred. Any prisoners approved for transfer must be seen by a healthcare practitioner prior to discharge and declared ‘fit for transfer’ before moving. Healthcare staff at the receiving establishment must also re-assess each prisoner after transfer.
Prison visits are temporarily suspended following instructions for people to stay at home.
Staying at home is how we reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment at any one time, so we can protect the NHS’s ability to cope and save more lives.
There are a number of other ways to contact someone in prison if you are unable to visit them. For example you might be able to leave a voice message using the Prison Voicemail Service or send them an email using the email a prisoner service. You can also write to them.
There are also a number of other helplines that can provide guidance.
As of 23 March 2020 HMPPS immediately suspended group activities in prisons including social visits, education, work and physical education programmes. Regime restrictions were required on a national basis, not to counter staff shortages but as a medical imperative to prevent the spread of the virus. Public Health England (PHE) and Government guidance meant that social distancing was required in every prison and establishments needed robust measures to isolate any symptomatic prisoners and to shield the vulnerable cohort in our care.
In line with Government guidelines, HMPPS policy currently does not require that staff wear face coverings or face masks in their day to day duties. A number of Safe Operating Procedures (SOPs) have been produced by the HMPPS Health and Safety team to instruct staff on when they should don PPE such as face masks, gloves and aprons, along with instructions on how to do this safely. This includes instructions and guidance for staff working on isolation units, who may come into contact with prisoners who are suspected/confirmed to be COVID-19 positive.
If there are changes to the general advice for visitors or the operation of the prison system, we will:
If there are changes to the operation of individual prisons, you can stay up to date by:
To support the revised population management strategy, mitigate the risk of the virus spreading within establishments and protect those must vulnerable as much as possible, a new Cohorting Strategy was also introduced in to prisons on 31 March 2020.
Cohorting is the Public Health England (PHE) strategy for the care of large numbers of people who are ill or who present heightened infection risk by gathering all those who are symptomatic into one area (or multiple designated areas) and establishing effective barrier control between this group and the wider population. HMPPS’s approach extends the concept of ‘cohorting’ to include shielding in a way which leads to effective compartmentalisation of prisons. (For detailed measures please consult attached document from May 2020)
The latest PHE guidance suggests that social distancing and shielding and cohorting requirements will be required in prisons until at least March 2021. However we are also starting to see a relaxation of some measures in the community and we must be proactive to plan for prison recovery activity, which may still commence whilst cohorting and social distancing continue.
For any further questions regarding the procedures in the state of emergency taken by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service of England please contact the following:
Supported by the Justice Programme of the European Union