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Prison Sentences: Swine Flu

Volume 492: debated on Tuesday 12 May 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice (1) whether he has made an assessment of the potential effects of the outbreak of swine influenza on (a) levels of sentencing to custody by magistrates courts and Crown courts and (b) the safe management of adult prisons, young offender institutions and secure training centres; (274325)

(2) what assessment he has made of the effect of the outbreak of swine influenza on the provision of healthcare in (a) adult prisons, (b) young offender institutions and (c) secure training centres.

Contingency planning for coping with the effects of a flu pandemic on the justice system including prisons and places of detention, has been underway for several years. Sentencing will continue to be a matter for judges taking account of individual circumstances and sentencing guidelines.

Protecting the public and ensuring the smooth running of the justice system is paramount and every effort would be made to ensure those who pose a risk continue to be appropriately dealt with.

In 2006, all prisons were instructed, through Prison Service Instruction PSI (29/2006), to develop contingencies plans in the event of pandemic influenza. Prison senior clinical staff were to be involved at all stages of planning. The plans were to be signed off as fit for purpose by area managers. The governor was required to establish links with the local health protection unit (HPU) and the primary care trust (PCT) to finalise arrangements for antiviral access and infection control management, and to adapt local community policies to a prison setting.

At the outset of this swine flu outbreak governors were reminded to review these plans and ensure they are up to date and capable of being acted on if the situation calls for it. This is to be done in consultation with local primary care trusts and in line with the current PSI.

A revised version of the Prison Service Instruction is currently in draft. It provides further advice on key areas including infection control, UK pandemic phases, detail on key issues to be covered in contingency plans including supply lines and participation in local resilience fora, along with advice on human resources matters.