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Prisoners: Coronavirus

Question for Ministry of Justice

UIN 46590, tabled on 13 May 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of potential effect on prisoner (a) discipline and order issues, (b) self-harm and (c) suicides on the custodial estate due to the continuation of covid-19 lockdown measures on the custodial estate while lockdown measures are being relaxed in the wider community.

Answered on

22 May 2020

COVID-19 presents a unique set of challenges to maintaining safety in custody.

We have taken temporary measures to restrict prison regimes and cease all non-essential activities involving groups of people. This includes social visits, education, non-essential work, association, and access to the gymnasium.

However, prisoners are given access to essential services including meals, showers, telephone contact with loved ones, access to health services, and time in the open air where possible.

This does unfortunately mean that prisoners will spend more time in their cells, which we recognise may increase the risk of self-harm or violence. We have provided guidance to Governors on the risks of isolation on both self-harm and violence and a range of materials have been provided to help mitigate this risk, including distraction packs and in-cell activities.

In recognition of the positive impact that family contact can have in terms of a prisoners’ mental health, we have provided locked mobile handsets for those without in-cell telephony. Additionally, we are extending the ‘email a prisoner’ facility to all sites. Following a successful trial at HMP Berwyn, we are rolling out secure video calls to 10 other institutions this week, with a wider roll-out in the coming weeks. Time-limited calls will be made either by prisoners making a call request to their designated contact or by families who can request a time slot through a mobile app or directly with the establishment.

The increased access to phones will also facilitate access to the Listener scheme run by the Samaritans.

These measures are part of the nationwide efforts to control the virus and save lives. We will regularly review these restrictions taking into account the best public health advice and the impact of any changes on the safety and stability of prisons.