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Covid-19 Lockdown in Prisons

Volume 683: debated on Tuesday 3 November 2020

What lessons his Department has learned from the (a) implementation and (b) effect of the covid-19 lockdown in prisons. (908304)

In March, we faced 2,500 to 3,500 deaths in our prisons, according to Public Health England’s worst-case scenario, and we took decisive action to implement national restrictions to protect our staff, prisoners and the NHS. As the pandemic continues, and in line with the overall Government position, we have now developed a more localised approach, which allows governors to operate regimes that are proportionate to the risk in their local area. Throughout the pandemic, we have continued to recognise the importance of prisoners’ wellbeing and mental health, and we have responded accordingly. We will be thinking again in line with the new national restrictions that will be imposed on Thursday.

Given the likelihood that prisoners will continue to suffer extreme restrictions, resulting in possible damage to mental health, for the whole of this winter and beyond, will the Minister guarantee that additional phone credit for prisoners and free access to video calls for families will continue for the duration of the pandemic?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting the measures we put in place during the last wave; as I said, we are very conscious of the impact on reduced liberties in prison. We did make available 1,200 handsets and £5 extra phone credit, and, as she mentioned, we rolled out video calling. Of course, we will continue to consider whether those are appropriate in the next phase of this pandemic.

Between today and Christmas, thousands of people will be released from prison, many of whom will have spent the past six months locked in cells for 23 hours a day, with education impossible, rehabilitation disrupted and mental health problems rising. They will be released with no job, money or second chance and an increased risk of reoffending. So, Minister, when will we have an action plan, learning the lessons from past months and providing prisoners with support, which, in turn, keeps our communities safer?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question, but I would like to challenge her position, because we already have an action plan. We have had the roll-out of a national framework to position 3—many prisons are already operating that. It rolls out the lifting of a number of restrictions, so that we have increased social visits across the estate, as well as offender management and a number of other measures. We are, of course, now reassessing the position and we will be having an action plan, following the imposition of further national restrictions on Thursday.