Second wave in prisons more deadly than the first

Matt Ford
Thursday, 14 January 2021

Since my last update in December, HMPPS have released another two weeks worth of data on infection levels in prisons in England and Wales.

As you can see in the graph below, after a steady decline in November, confirmed cases in prisons began to rise again throughout the middle of December, reaching a peak in the week ending the 21st, when over 800 new cases were recorded. Cases then appear to have fallen abruptly in the following two weeks. 

2,407 confirmed cases were recorded between 1 December and 4 January. That's over two-fifths of the nearly 6,000 cases recorded in prisons since the pandemic began.

In the latest week, 47 out of 121 prisons had active outbreaks, eight fewer than in the previous week.

Trends in COVID-related deaths of prisoners followed the same pattern as cases throughout November and December, except the peak appeared to come a week later. Ten COVID-related deaths were recorded in the week ending 28 December. No COVID-related deaths were recorded in the week ending 4 January. 

Altogether, there were 24 COVID-related deaths in prisons in December. This is almost as many as in the entire first wave, when 27 were recorded. Forty-four prisoners have so far died in ways related to COVID-19 in the second wave, bringing the total death toll to 71. Fifty-seven of these deaths were suspected or confirmed to be due to COVID-19, with the remaining deaths attributed to other causes but where the prisoner had tested positive for the virus.

The fall in cases, numbers of prisons with active outbreaks, and COVID-related deaths in prisons in November occurred alongside the imposition of a month-long national lockdown in the community, and the subsequent rises in December happened in the context of the easing of these restrictions in the community. 

HMPPS decided to reimpose stricter regimes in pris0ns following the announcement of the third national lockdown in the community on 4 January. Reports indicate that prisoners will be vaccinated on the same terms as the rest of the population, according to clinical priority. Restrictions in prisons imposed in the first wave lasted longer than in the community, meaning prisons may stay in lockdown until after Easter. 

Prisoners and prison staff should be prioritised for vaccination to ensure a more normal regime can be implemented.