I have recently been reminded that in my journey through this life, I have reached a very important milestone.
When I started the Guardian, a friend asked me what the first story I had written was.
I looked back and discovered that my first quote was dated 17 years ago – December 5, 2003. That means that over the last five decades, I have been writing longer than I have spent in jail – 16.5 sporadic years. 2020 was by far the busiest year in this, my second career, because of what I wrote about enforcing Covid conditions that hold inmates locked up for 23 hours without access to therapy, limit prison visits, and have significant impacts on physical and mental health.
I used the words “prison” and “sunshine” in the same sentence in my first message, something that I am not likely to repeat any time soon. This is because the news I regularly receive from reputable sources across the prison system in England and Wales, from both sides of the cell doors, is continuously depressing: prisoners held in isolation because without their temperature being taken, they had contact with a confirmed Covid carrier; family members who were told that their incarcerated relatives had tested positive and then heard no contact with a confirmed Covid carrier;
In letters checked by prison censors, the letters pages of Inside Time, the esteemed jail journal, tell the same story that prison officers who arrive in jails day in and day out have not followed this most basic of covid laws. In June, I quoted Prisons Minister Lucy Fraser from a Department of Justice briefing when she said the “success” in dealing with Covid in prisons was attributed to “our extremely careful handling of the initial phase of the pandemic. “Did I believe that line at the time? Not at least at all.
In order to provide reliable information about the condition of our jails, can we rely on the MoJ or the Prison Service? Not according to Peter Clarke, the recently retired Chief Inspector of Prisons.
“found it difficult to get accurate information from the Prison Service about the state of Covid restraints in prisons.”found it difficult to get accurate information from the Prison Service on the state of Covid’s prison restraints.
If the Chief Prison Inspector is unable to receive detailed details from the system he is reviewing, what chance would the rest of us have? “A spokeswoman said, “We have always followed the current public health guidelines since I submitted the mask proof I had gathered to the Justice Department.
When social distancing is not practicable, all staff have access to PPE and wear masks. “But Mick Pimblett, deputy general secretary of the Prison Officers Association (POA) told me, “Since the start of the Covid pandemic, the POA has repeatedly asked HMPS [the prison service]for a face mask policy.
“HMPS agreed on a strategy in October 2020 that includes providing staff with fluid-resistant surgical masks. “So it was not until October, six months after the pandemic outbreak, that a face mask strategy was developed by the Prison Service. This might cost lives.
According to the latest estimates from the Ministry of Justice released Dec. 18, 72 inmates and people on parole in England and Wales have died of covid since March 2020.
In November, the number of prisoners who tested positive increased dramatically.
3,460 inmates tested positive at the end of November, up 1,825 from the end of October. The MoJ has been testing symptomatic prisoners since April.
Since July, all prisoners in 28 jails – representing about one-fifth of the population – have been screened. The POA seems to think that it has done well for prisoners during Covid, like the Prisons Minister in June.
National president Mark Fairhurst said in the summer issue of Gatelodge, the union’s journal, “No one should be in the slightest doubt that the POA has shaped the lockdown in our prisons. Fortunately, our union was finally listened to by both the government and the employer and agreed that we need to severely restrict the regimes to protect all those in them.”