Coronavirus in prisons in Europe

The majority of those infected with coronavirus are likely to experience mild symptoms and make a speedy recovery.

It is, though, known that certain population groups – particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions – are more vulnerable to a serious illness and, in relatively rare cases, death. Being able to take appropriate action to limit one’s exposure to coronavirus, such as regular use of soap and sanitisers, and exercising social distancing and self-isolation, are particularly important both for minimising risk to self and preventing the spread of coronavirus to others.

If an institution was to be invented with the express intention of maximising the spread of coronavirus, and of concentrating it among those most likely to be vulnerable to it, that institution would probably look much like a prison. Full of those most vulnerable to coronavirus, held in unhygienic conditions with negligible scope for social distancing and self-isolation, prisons could quickly be overwhelmed by coronavirus cases. 

With partners across a number of European countries, we are taking stock of the current incidence and spread of coronavirus in prisons in Europe and assessing the different policies and practices currently being pursued to limit the spread of coronavirus in prisons and reduce possible infections, illness and death.

The aim is to produce a knowledge-base, for use by prison administrators and decision-makers, to help inform their evolving approaches in what remains a very fluid, unpredictable situation.

The main areas covered by this project are:

  1. Overview data on total prison population, staffing, conditions of imprisonment.
  2. Overview on prison health arrangements.
  3. Official policy/policies on managing coronavirus in prison.
  4. Data on coronavirus cases in prison, both in relation to prisoners and staff.
  5. Practices aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus in prison: both within prison (e.g. segregation, separation, soaps and sanitisers) and outside prison (e.g. preventing unnecessary imprisonment, forms of early release etc).

Given the fast-moving situation, findings are being published on an ongoing basis, as and when available.