The only thing getting in the way of vaccinating those in prisons against COVID-19 is politics, our director Richard Garside told The Independent yesterday.
The government claimed to have given some 350,000 people the first stage of the vaccine last week, Richard said. This is a far greater number than the total number of staff and prisoners across England and Wales.
Vaccinating all members of staff and prisoners relatively quickly would therefore be "eminently deliverable", with only political considerations stopping this from happening.
Last week, Inside Time reported that the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation had considered placing prisons in the priority group for vaccination. When the priorities list was published on 2 December, prisons did not feature.
Researchers at the University of Oxford, and public health specialists interviewed by The Lancet, have been among those arguing that, on public health grounds, prisons should be prioritised for the vaccine. Meanwhile, researchers at the Nuffield Trust have pointed to the higher rates of infection in prisons compared to the community.
Richard also warned that, given the new coronavirus strain is reportedly more contagious, it was possible that there could be “more infections and potentially more deaths” in prison if the Prison Service merely replicates the lockdown it imposed during the first wave.
“I do think they should be looking at a managed release programme so they can get as many people out of harm’s way as possible,” he told The Independent. “The risk if they don’t is more deaths and a restricted regime for several more months at least.”
The newspaper also spoke to the former Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, who called for greater discretion for prison governors to authorise early releases. He also argued that a stricter containment regime did not need to mean prisoners spending 23 hours a day in their cells. Instead, prisoners “should remain in ‘small groups’ to minimise... contact, with a testing system in place that reduces chances of the virus both entering and leaving jails”.