What goes on in prison does not stay in prison

Richard Garside
Friday, 8 May 2020

As the government finalises its plans for easing the lockdown, the lockdown in prisons looks set to intensify.

At the beginning of April, the government announced plans for the early release of up to 4,000 prisoners in England and Wales, to reduce prison overcrowding and slow the rate of infection among prisoners and staff.

The target was unambitious. The Prison Governors Association and Public Health England have argued that releasing 10,000 - 15,000 prisoners is needed. But it was a small step in the right direction.

By late April, though, a mere 33 prisoners had been released. Many now doubt that the government has any real commitment to meeting the 4,000 target, never mind releasing the numbers required.

What goes on in prison does not stay in prison. As modelling by the American Civil Liberties Union has shown, 'any prison or jail outbreak is bound to spill over into the broader community – causing more people to die in the general public, too'.

In place of a long-term, sustainable plan to prevent widespread outbreaks in the prison, the government has resorted to the short-term fix of a prison-wide lockdown: 23 hours plus, locked in a cell. This is solitary confinement masquerading as a public health intervention.

In his latest commentary, my colleague Matt Ford tells the sorry tale of how we got to this point. As he points out, it is difficult to see how the prison service exits from its own form of lockdown.

Over the past week, we have been continuing to collate information on responses to coronavirus across various European jurisdictions. You can access the infographics we have put together here. We will be producing further infographics, and more detailed analysis, in the coming weeks.

We have also updated our list of European responses to coronavirus in prison. Thank you to those who got in touch to help us correct some details. It is really useful to get this feedback.