Prisons are highly vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks, with rates of infection and hospitalisation higher than in the general population, the report from the goverment’s SAGE committee, COVID-19 Transmission in Prison Settings, points out.
The paper explores the geography of prison building throughout the twentieth century. It identified three distinct trends linked to wider societal developments that led to changes in specific types of land use.
Its use is to be widened in several ways. The House Detention Order, due to be piloted, will introduce a more rigorous curfew regime, targeted at those considered to have failed to respond to community sentences. Offenders convicted of acquisitive offences and released on licence are due to be electronically monitored.
In Britain, they have been confirmed by large surveys of psychiatric disorder carried out in the general population and in prisons, using the same methods of assessment. This picture has recently been emphatically confirmed by the World Health Organisation, which examined the physical and mental health of the 1.5 million people incarcerated in Europe on any given day. This report also identified a context of 'entrenched and intergenerational social disadvantage'.
A probation service once again about to be 'reunified' after an act of ill-judged political vandalism. In this vein, I recently dipped into a new anthology of interdisciplinary writings on punishment, with a welcome introduction by the admirably prescient probation scholar, Rob Canton.
The overwhelming majority of both cases and deaths occurred in the second wave in prisons.
In the first wave, there were 27 COVID-related deaths (24 suspected or confirmed as due to COVID) and about 550 confirmed cases. In the second wave, which began in late summer / early autumn 2020, there have so far been 103 (81 suspected or confirmed to be due to COVID) deaths and 14,938 confirmed cases of the virus.
The spread of any disease, Professor Richard Coker observed at our webinar on COVID-19 and prisons earlier this week, is down to three factors: the nature of the pathogen; the nature of the host; and the nature of the environment. On the face of it, prisons, with their closed environments, offer an excellent environment for the spread of disease.
The recent thematic review by HM Inspectorate of Prisons contains a chilling comment by Charlie Taylor, the new Chief Inspector.
His recollections stood out for me not least because of his thoughtful judicial commitment to reducing the penal urge to incarcerate, as well as to creatively tap into the healing and redemptive embrace of local communities in an evidence-led attempt to reduce offending. I certainly cannot recall in my twenty years as a probation officer an occasion when a judge stepped into the well of the court to play his tenor saxophone!
Those in prison are there having been sentenced by a court of law to suffer the loss of freedom for crimes committed. However, prisoners are there to serve out their sentence and not die whilst incarcerated. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has a legal duty of care to prisoners, due to their loss of rights and liberty, to ensure their health and well-being, especially in a pandemic.
The MoJ framed their strategy towards prisoner safety during the pandemic in two schemes:
This can be seen in centuries-old vagrancy laws and imprisonment for council tax debt, and more recently with the introduction of Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) and imprisonment for contempt of court following an injunction.