Over 100 ‘probable’ coronavirus cases in East of England prisons

Bedford prison
HMP Bedford

A report published this week by Public Health England (PHE), says there have been over 100 ‘probable’ cases of coronavirus in prisons in the East of England.

The data, compiled up to 24 April, is part of a report looking into mitigation strategies in prisons to slow and prevent the spread of the disease amongst prisoners.

The report says there have been:

  • 115 ‘probable’ cases of coronavirus
  • 35 confirmed coronavirus cases
  • four coronavirus related hospitalisations
  • three deaths connected to coronavirus

Access to tests for prisoners has been “limited and variable”, leading to the inclusion of possible/probable cases in its data.

Individuals were classified under this category when they met the clinical case definition of COVID-19 and where usually five or more positive cases from prisoners had come from the same facility already.

In total, the PHE data states that there were 304 confirmed cases of coronavirus across the prison estate in England and Wales, 1,783 ‘probable’, 35 hospitalisations and 15 deaths.

Separately, four prison staff have so far died due to the virus.

The majority of prisons in England and Wales have had at least one confirmed case of coronavirus, although the Bedford Independent did not receive a response from Bedford Prison when asked how many cases they had so far.

As part of the report’s main findings, it is stated that measures implemented in prisons have prevented an “explosive outbreak” from occurring.

The data compiled by the report also indicates that the number of confirmed cases per day of COVID-19 in prisons peaked in early April.

However, while there remains no reliable vaccine or other treatment, “risk of large outbreaks in the prison estate will remain”.

Prison visits remain suspended and Bedford Prison continues to run an automated message on its main switch line, advising callers that due to a high volume of calls, they should only hold if they have a safeguarding issue.

Meanwhile, a Coronavirus Payment Scheme was introduced on 23 March to further remunerate prison staff willing to work extra hours to help cover staff shortages due to self-isolation or suspected symptoms.

At around the same time in March, 10% of the total prison workforce were unavailable due to self-isolation or sickness.

If a prison officer signs up for four-weeks of nine-hours overtime each week, they are entitled to a £500 bonus payment, which on top of overtime pay, adds up to an additional total of £1,292.

If they sign up for 12 weeks on the same hours per week rate, the bonus increases to £1,750 and the prison officer will earn £4,126 additional pay in total.

Prison governors, meanwhile, are entitled to a £1,500 bonus under the payment scheme with no minimum number of hours required to be eligible for it.

A spokesperson for the Prison Officers Association (POA) described this as “grossly unfair” in comparison to other prison staff.

Earlier this month, as a result of the slow implementation of the planned early release of 4,000 prisoners in England and Wales, the Howard League for Penal Reform and Prison Reform Trust joined together to begin legal action against the government for its management of containing the spread in prisons.

On 27 April, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland confirmed that so far only 33 of 4,000 prisoners eligible for early release to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, had been released.

According to Ministry of Justice data, as of March 2020, Bedford Prison held 359 prisoners, a rise of 3 from the corresponding figure for February.

The Category B Male offender prison has an operational capacity of 409 and a baseline certified normal accommodation (CNA) capacity of 314.

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