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Letters From Our Incarcerated Communities

Living with Covid-19: a letter from prison

I’m a Cat A prisoner. Being in prison at this time of Covid-19 is terrifying.

Remember, some prison cells here still don’t have toilets so living with a bucket full for days waiting to be allowed to empty it is now common!

The biggest threat and most likely cause of the virus spreading through high security prisons is the continued insistence that routine monthly cell searches are conducted. This consists of at least two officers strip-searching the prisoner in his cell, taking him out and then trawling through all of the prisoner’s possessions. This usually takes 30 – 60 minutes. Having touched and breathed upon every item in the poorly ventilated cell, the prisoner is then put back in to tidy-up his belongings. The guards don’t wear gloves or facemasks, so if one of them has the virus it is pretty much guaranteed they will have infected the prisoner. In such a cramped space, it would still be highly likely even if guards wore full PPE.

Add to that the routine cell accommodation fabric checks where officers spend around 60 seconds in every cell testing to make sure the in-cell facilities work, and walls are not broken. Touching light switches and all other major contact points in each cell spreads virus or bacteria to them all, especially when the screws do not regularly wash their hands.

Although cordless PIN phones have been supplied to all prisons without in-cell telephones, the high security dispersal prisons (where convicted category A prisoners are located) have refused to enable their use, making all prisoners share one of the normal phones located on the landing during the limited time when they are not in lock down. As well as not being hygienic, this is causing tensions to rise amongst men already unable to see their families, as there is only enough time for each call to last a few minutes or some will lose the opportunity to make a call that day. Also, a prisoner in Long Lartin has reported that food portions have reduced significantly, and fruit is no longer available to purchase from the canteen.

The self-harm and suicide rates have soared in prisons over lockdown, collateral damage I suppose… It’s funny how now that so many others are on the regime of solitary confinement and lockdown that it is suddenly a big issue, but few cared before!

Despite all the difficulties, HMPPS continues to block access to the majority of Freeview TV channels by paying for equipment which restricts the channels. This limits what little distraction is available. When you can’t even get access to the likes of More 4 how can you dream of possible freedom from the dangerous virus breeding ground.

Once the virus actually gets in here it will get worse for us, especially with how bad the private company (Spectrum) running healthcare is.

Lockdown has been enforced and we are in our cells 22 or 23 hours a day and the number of prisoners unlocked at one time has been limited. But it’s not because of the virus, its to prevent protests over lockdown regime being enforced!

In here the screws refuse to wear facemasks or gloves at all, and claim that social distancing does not apply to them.

I can see multiple screws playing pool, cards, darts or boardgames which are supposed to be for prisoners. At one point there were 12 of them playing games on the landing plus the others in the office. There is no excuse for that many screws regardless if we are out in isolation or not!

It is completely negligent of the prison authorities to allow the guards to use the prison as a social club and it increases the risk of Covid-19 spreading massively. But what makes it a total mockery is that the guards are boasting about receiving extra hazard pay due to the virus. They have built into the regime extra extended briefing sessions for guards totalling almost four hours a day. Yet we see that this consists of them sitting in the office socializing! Some of them are actually doing overtime for bonus pay which makes absolutely no sense when all off-wing activities have been cancelled including visits, gym, library, education workshops etc., so all the screws who would usually patrol them are spare.

As for letting prisoners out, this government would rather cause the death of thousands than do it!

Statistics show at least 15% of people on remand are innocent, and ending the use of remand for all but the most extreme crimes would allow in excess of 10,000 people to be released overnight. Considering that people on remand haven’t been convicted and are “innocent until proven guilty”, the government wouldn’t be accused of releasing criminals.

Recall of prisoners could be ended except following a charge for another crime. This would mean that another 10,000 people who have already been deemed safe to release at least once before could be let out. These are the minimum actions that nobody could object to. 

Then they could start looking further like releasing all foreign national detainees only being held captive to await deportation which can’t happen due to cancelled flights, letting all child prisoners out, all over 75s, all on Imprisonment for Public Protection sentences (IPP’s) with expired tariffs, and those held in mental health hospitals against their will. Iran released all prisoners and they haven’t seen a spike in crime which disproves all the predictions and scaremongering here!

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