Deaths from COVID-19 in prisons are not 'natural cause' deaths

Matt Ford
Thursday, 30 July 2020

Today the Ministry of Justice released the latest Safety in custody statistics covering deaths in prisons in England and Wales to June 2020 and self harm and assaults to March 2020.

It shows that between March and June 2020, the first three months of the pandemic, there were 81 deaths in prisons. That's an increase of 29 per cent on the previous three months. We should be careful, however, about reading trends from data for just one quarter, as figures can be volatile over such short periods and experience seasonal fluctuations.

Luckily, it appears that the even more restrictive regime imposed on prisons during the lockdown has not yet resulted in a surge in self inflicted deaths. Hopefully this will be sustained until there is a way out from the pandemic. 

There were 57 'natural cause' deaths over this period, and the 23 covid deaths we have seen in prisons so far have been classified as such. 

There is an argument that the state plays a role in all deaths in prison. If the authorities take away people’s liberty totally, so they are totally responsible for their care. The role of prisons in actively contributing to untimely deaths of prisoners, or ‘prison effects’, is mixed. 

In the case of the global epidemiological experiment we’re currently experiencing, where negligent and indifferent governments like our own act as the control group, ignoring the science about lockdowns, we can see very clearly that inaction leads directly to higher levels of deaths.

The government were warned that prisons were potential hotbeds of contagion and contained people at risk of the worst effects of the disease, and they made a political decision not to embark on an extensive programme of decarceration to protect these prisoners. We can lay the blame at their door here too.

These COVID-19 deaths were homicides.