A report by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre found that a third of people critically ill with COVID-19 were black and minority ethnic, compared to 18 per cent in the wider UK population.
Earlier this week the House of Commons Justice Committee relaunched an inquiry into the ageing prison population. Originally launched last July, but cut short as a result of the December 2019 General Election, the restarted inquiry is timely.
In prisons, however, all the signs are that, far from being slowed, the onward march of coronavirus is accelerating. The number of prisoners who have tested positive for COVID-19 in England and Wales has doubled in a week. At least ten prisoners have died since the outbreak began. There will surely be more.
Prisons, by their nature, are potential hotbeds for the transmission of the coronavirus among those most vulnerable to infection and its most acute effects. Prisoners do not have the freedom to take the kinds of precautions we’re all taking to limit the contagion and reduce our risk of exposure.
What are the implications of the release policy? With the whole country under effective lockdown it is uncertain just what the risks of re-offending might be during the emergency we are currently experiencing. The use of electronic monitoring with prisoners approaching the end of their detention marks a step in using such measures to reduce the prison population, but should not be over-estimated.
One recurring memory in particular prompted this post. When I first was introduced to Sharky (not his real name) it was in a slightly unconventional setting. I had just left a local community drug agency, following the conclusion of a separate three-way meeting, when a hoarse voice called out my name, or at least it sounded like my name. ‘Are you Mr Gifford (sic)?’.
This is a sensible response to simply allow these women to follow government guidance to minimise social contact. Pregnant women are one of a number of groups who are currently recommended to do so. It is also a step woefully behind much of Europe’s management of coronavirus in prisons.
In the face of the immediate threat posed by coronavirus, governments across the world have acted decisively and swiftly. The crisis has focused minds and prompted action in ways that would have been unthinkable only a few months ago.
Prisons provide the perfect environment for contagious diseases to wreak havoc. They are crowded, cramped, unsanitary institutions with inadequate healthcare provision for a population already in poor health. On top of that, in Britain we have an ageing custodial population, with many prisoners now in the age groups at greatest risk of complications from coronavirus.
Many more prisoners will become seriously ill with Covid-19. Some will die.
The event discussed best practices in tackling issues of serious violence and county lines. Since this meeting unprecedented socio-economic interventions have been introduced to address the Coronavirus public health crisis to meet needs and reduce risks from unnecessary suffering.
To be interned is to have your ordinary rights denied and to be subjected to, amongst other things, gross over-crowding, living in abhorrent conditions, abuse, constant violence, inadequate health and mental care and overuse of isolation. No wonder then that when word got out, in April 1990, that the prisoners at Manchester’s Strangeways Prison had taken action to object to the intolerable, it sparked a series of disturbances in prisons across the whole of Britain.
The death of 15 year-old Philip Knight while on remand in Swansea prison, just a few months after the Strangeways protest started, triggered an outcry in the media and Parliament; such was the shock and anger, a television documentary was made about him. Adopted as an infant, Philip started showing behavioural problems from around the age of seven, and was ‘returned’ to care aged 14.