Updated on: 16 June 2020
SPS has in place a robust Pandemic Plan which is continually updated to reflect the latest Public Health advice. This document provides clear guidance to underpin all operational decision making and practice. SPS’ response to the COVID-19 outbreak has been informed by 3 key considerations: public health, operational stability and staffing capacity. Other acknowledged considerations are transparency and accountability in SPS COVID-19 responses. SPS has been cross checking all its actions and activities against human rights protocols.
The SPS Pandemic Plan acknowledges, incorporates and implements World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance. SPS recognises the WHO principles need to be respected in the response to COVID-19 in prisons and that these are grounded in human rights law as well as the international standards and norms in criminal justice.
Confirmed cases and those showing symptoms of COVID-19 are managed under Rule 41 of the Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 2011, while those who have been in contact with a confirmed or symptomatic case are managed under Rule 40a; both require isolation. Both Rule 40(a) and Rule 41 can only be applied following advice from an NHS healthcare professional. All those held in isolation have a care plan in place detailing the activities that can be accessed during this time.
Separate cutlery, crockery, towels and bedding are provided together with cleaning products for cleaning the cell, sink and toilet area. Meals are provided in cell. Where the individual is being given access to the phone, to the shower or to outdoor exercise, they are provided with a fluid repellent mask which they must wear while out of cell. The staff must be in full PPE (fluid repellent mask, gloves, sleeveless apron and goggles). The phone or shower must be cleaned before and after use and strict social distancing must be observed if exercising outside.
Anyone who is in isolation will continue to have access to health and care and prescribed medication. All cells have hot water so those in isolation are still able to wash on a daily basis.
The NHS has also identified those who are clinically vulnerable due to certain underlying health conditions, including cancer, cystic fibrosis and organ transplant patients, and are therefore at greater risk from COVID-19. People in this group have been advised through NHS letters and discussions with healthcare staff that they should self-isolate (‘shield’) for up to 12 weeks. Where an individual is unwilling to comply, they are asked to sign an NHS disclaimer. This records their refusal to follow the medical advice provided and ensures clear and concise records are maintained of any advice provided and decisions taken.
Anyone shielding is accommodated in a single room and their meals and any prescribed medication are provided to them in their cells by staff, which also provides regular opportunities for human interaction. Those shielding continue to be given access to the phone and showers which are cleaned regularly.
Individuals in isolation are being asked if they would like a family member informed that they are in isolation due to suspected or confirmed COVID-19. Establishments thereafter make arrangements to contact the persons identified if so requested.
In order to further reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread, SPS is actively seeking to provide single cell accommodation to everyone in our care. Currently around 85-90% of the Scottish prison population reside in a single cell. It is hoped that efforts to ensure a greater proportion of the prison population reside in single cell accommodation will be assisted by the implementation of Early Release legislation and greater provision of Home Detention Curfew (HDC). While it is clearly not possible to maintain a social distance within a shared cell, Health Protection Scotland’s interpretation is that a prison cell is considered a “household”. Further, SPS is not, at this time, transferring people in our care between areas of prison, unless absolutely necessary in order to limit the risk of any further cross contamination or introduction of COVID-19 to a new area. If an individual sharing a cell shows symptoms of Covid-19 they would be transferred to a single cell to isolate, as would the other occupant of that cell.
At the moment all visits are suspended across the prison estate. Critical Agents visits will continue to be facilitated but, as our courts reduce their business, it is anticipated that the number of these visits will also reduce.
The SPS recognises the importance of supporting and maintaining family contact, especially during this challenging time. All establishments are being encouraged to promote the Email a Prisoner Scheme, which also allows those in custody to respond.
The SPS will provide everyone in their care with a free allowance of £2.50 per week on their PIN phone balance. The weekly £1 TV rental fee has also been suspended and will no longer be deducted from people in our care.
People serving 18 months or less sent who have only 3 months left to serve of their sentence are now eligible for early release, following the introduction of emergency legislation. Under the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act a number of categories of prisoners are excluded from early release (such as those convicted of sexual offences or terrorism related offences) and prison governors are able to veto the release of prisoners they deem to pose a risk of harm. The Release of Prisoners (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Regulations 2020, laid before the Scottish Parliament on 4th May 2020, extended these exclusions to include those serving sentences for domestic abuse offences, those with non-harassment orders or those convicted of certain COVID-19-related offences.
It is estimated that around 450 prisoners will be eligible for early release under the criteria. Prisoner releases began on 4th May and are taking place over 4 weeks in 3 tranches. There have been 348 people released early under the regulations and 63 uses of the Governor veto.
Scottish Government has announced that the presumption against Home Detention Curfew being granted to people who have committed certain offences (including those with an index offence involving an act of violence) will now no longer apply. Decisions will be made on a case by case basis following an assessment of available information on relevant risk factors. The decision has been made in consultation with HMIPS and HMICS and was taken following the introduction of changes to HDC assessment practices and guidance and in light of challenges posed by the current COVID-19 outbreak.
In order to implement effective social distancing and balance the competing demands of public health and operational stability, the SPS has temporarily suspended the following: All non-essential work opportunities; communal dining; large group physical activity within prison gyms (although outdoor exercise in smaller numbers is encouraged); and education provision.
SPS and NHS Health Boards have provided additional in-cell recreational activities and additional in-cell education activities have been delivered by Fife College. Relaxation and mindfulness exercises are also available on in-cell televisions and radio. Access to books and newspapers have not been stopped, but the arrangements by which people in custody can receive these items have changed. At the current time, families and friends are not able to hand in such items to prisons; however, they are able to arrange for them to be posted into prisons. Prisons are also encouraging greater outdoor exercise activities, while maintaining social distancing, in line with public health advice.
All prison activity is now being delivered in a more controlled manner, with smaller groups and reduced numbers of participants. This approach allows staff to regulate levels of interpersonal contact in line with public health guidance.
People in custody continue to be offered outside exercise as entitled to under Rule 87 of the Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 2011. However, outside exercise is currently being delivered in significantly smaller groups than was permitted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In line with both government and public health advice, during outside exercise, individuals must maintain a 2-metre distance and groups of more than two people are not be permitted to gather. It is at the Governor’s discretion to provide guidance to staff on exactly how many people can participate in outside exercise at any one time and this decision is informed by these guiding principles.
Everyone in prisons is being provided an additional £2.50 per week of phone credit. Individuals will not be financially disadvantaged as a result of not being able to work. Those receiving the lowest wage are being provided with an additional £2 per week and the £1 television rental charge is being suspended and is also being added to their personal cash.
All Scottish prisons have transitioned to a single shift core day. SPS has been successful in procuring the required range and supply of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for the use of frontline staff where health guidance protocols necessitate. Private sector prisons have their own procurement processes to ensure sufficient PPE is available to staff.
SPS public sector staff have been issued with appropriate PPE, instructions on how and when to use it, together with information on how to keep themselves and people in custody safe. SPS staff who are required to undertake escorting duties are provided with PPE and instructions for use.
The Scottish Court Custody and Prisoner Escorting Service contractor, GEOAmey, has reported that all members of their staff have access to supplies of PPE in accordance with operating guidelines. GEOAmey is responsible for the risk assessment and provision of PPE for their staff and SPS has shared all relevant guidance and information with them.
Those undertaking roles which are not critical to reducing the spread of COVID-19 or to ensure operational stability have either been redeployed into critical roles or been advised to stay at home in line with public health advice and where possible, work from personal laptops. SPS has secured an appropriate licence which allows staff to utilise SPS’ digital platforms and work from home using their own devices.
SPS has also been piloting a Work Smart Project which facilitates flexible home working through SPS laptops and associated equipment. SPS has now taken delivery of a large number of additional Work Smart laptops which will further support remote working and these are being allocated on a priority basis to those engaged on, or recently redeployed to, essential operational business.
Further, SPS has introduced an additional payment scheme to incentivise those who remain able to work to commit to undertake additional hours and cover the time lost by colleagues who are unable through absence. This scheme is open to both operational and non-operational staff and will operate initially over a 12-week period.
Staff continue to have access to the Employee Assistance Programme for confidential advice and guidance on a range of problems and COVID-19 wellbeing packs have been issued outlining the signs and indicators for self-monitoring and the appropriate therapeutic actions to pursue.
SPS has continued to advertise for new staff and the new recruit training is proceeding through the Officer Foundation Programme (OFP) being delivered by the Scottish Prison Service College. Recruits are working their way through the programme training modules in readiness for deployment. Thus far, all recruits have remained symptom free from the COVID-19. The Instructors have reported that the Safe Systems of Work in place are operating well.
In terms of prison wages, only those who undertake essential services to keep the prison running e.g. laundry, catering and cleaning will continue to attend work. Those who are employed in these essential services will receive an additional £10 weekly bonus on top of their current wage.
Whilst all other employment opportunities have been suspended; people in our care will not lose money as a result of being unable to attend work. Those who are unable to work will continue to be paid their full wage. Those who were not previously working will continue to receive a ‘cell wage’ in line with the Prisoner Earnings and Wages Policy, in addition to an extra £2 per week.
SPS is in regular communication with those in their care. Every individual has received at least weekly letters and there have been regular discussions with staff about the impact of COVID-19 in the custodial environment.
NHS posters and information leaflets on COVID-19 have been widely displayed throughout establishments as well as information disseminated through in-cell television. Protocols have been put in place for partner agencies to share information and maintain contact with their various client groups. For those shortly to be liberated, release packs have been developed outlining revised processes and contact numbers for community services.
Staff have been provided with information on how to identify those who may be struggling whilst in isolation. Self-help support leaflets, designed by SPS Psychologists, have been issued to everyone in custody and these provide information and tools which can be used to maintain a sense of wellbeing.
SPS is acutely aware that social isolation in a prison environment can have a detrimental effect on mental wellbeing and functioning among those in custody. This is especially true of those who present with known pre-existing conditions. Mental wellbeing advice leaflets and audio files have been developed by SPS Psychology to provide self-help for those in custody who are in isolation. Prison Chaplains continue to provide pastoral, spiritual and faith-specific care within establishments. Arrangements have also been put in place to enable the observation of religious ceremonies and festivals. Guidance for staff on coping mechanisms is also available, to protect themselves and to assist in identifying signs and indicators of problematic behaviour caused by isolation and distancing among those in custody.
For any further questions regarding the procedures in the state of emergency taken by the Scottish Prison Service please contact the following:
Scottish Prison Service
Supported by the Justice Programme of the European Union