Tracking European jurisdictions’ preparedness, prevention and control of COVID-19 in prisons

Matt Ford
Thursday, 9 April 2020

Over the last few days we’ve finalised and sent out a survey to European partner organisations as part of our brand new project tracking official responses to COVID-19 in European prisons.

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.

As of 5PM on Tuesday 7th April there were 129 confirmed cases of prisoners testing positive for COVID-19 across 47 prisons in England and Wales, and 10 prisoners had died after catching the virus. And it’s not just a problem that’s locked behind the prison doors. Prisons have been described as ‘epidemiological pumps’, with a constant through-flow of prisoners and staff entering and leaving these contagion hotspots.

We’re aware of a number of measures being rolled out across European states, with our own government in England and Wales having so far announced a modest programme of early release for pregnant women and up to 4,000 risk-assessed prisoners reaching the end of their sentences. Earlier this week, the Ministry of Justice confirmed that so far only six had been released.

Our survey requests information on these measures from respondents in European countries. In discussion with partners at the World Health Organisation we have incorporated their checklist questions relating to interim guidance on best practice in the management of COVID-19 in prisons. It includes modules on risk assessment and management, referral system and clinical management, contingency planning, staff training, risk communication, prevention measures, case management and human rights considerations.

So far representatives from partner organisations in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Latvia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Ireland, Romania and Austria have expressed an interest in completing the survey.

We’re aiming to provide assessments of each respondent jurisdiction’s preparedness, prevention and control of COVID-19 in prison as we receive the information through various outputs. We’ll also be tracking the known spread of the virus in each country’s prison system.

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

We’ll keep you up-to-date with the findings as they emerge over the coming weeks.