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Prison Accommodation: Coronavirus

Question for Ministry of Justice

UIN HL4755, tabled on 20 May 2020

To ask Her Majesty's Government, in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, what assessment they have made of the number of people within the prison estate that they expect to be held in double accommodation over the next 12 months.

Answered on

4 June 2020

We will always have enough capacity to accommodate those committed to custody by the courts. As of 29 May, we have reduced useable operational capacity by around 2,600 places in order to ensure prisons can implement a compartmentalisation strategy to isolate the symptomatic, shield the vulnerable and quarantine new arrivals to reduce risk. Further reductions in useable capacity will depend on further population reductions and we will continue to monitor the situation closely.

In March, temporary restrictions were put in place to minimise movements between jails and reduce face-to-face probation meetings to avoid thousands of prisoners and staff becoming infected with COVID-19. Since then, strong further measures have been implemented, including the early release of low-risk offenders, temporary expansion of the prison estate, and work to reduce the number of those held on remand. These measures have helped to contain the spread of the virus so far and limit deaths.

This action has helped to reduce the prison population, allowing jails to implement ‘compartmentalisation’.

Inter-prison transfers are currently limited, however, as normal measures return across the estate, we will be able to undertake routine inter-prison transfers safely.

The baseline certified normal accommodation (CNA) of the prison estate will not change over the next 12 months (as there are no plans to open new prison places or permanently close any prisons). However, in-use CNA and operational capacity will fluctuate over the next 12 months as places come in and out of use for a range of reasons at selected prisons (mainly as a result of large-scale maintenance projects and/or as part of our response to managing the Covid-19 pandemic).

The number of prisoners held in shared accommodation over the next 12 months will be based on the size of the current and the projected prison population. As at 1 May, 36% of the prison population are sharing cells holding two or more people.

To mitigate the spread of infection in the existing estate, we have been creating space in prisons to remove and reduce cell sharing, provide access to in-cell sanitation, and protect the sick and shield the vulnerable.

Over 850 temporary cells have already been delivered to 25 prisons and 217 are in use. We continue to deliver and install these units to provide single occupancy cells at priority sites to support the successful compartmentalisation of prisoners to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We have also opened an Annex at HMP/YOI Rochester to hold up to 70 men.

Extra headroom is being created as a result of population falls and our support for early release schemes and expediting of remand cases.