Covid-19: Two staff deaths at Pentonville prison

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Covid-19: Two staff deaths at Pentonville prison

Koestler Trust exhibition (The Yard 2030 – Maghaberry Prison, Northern Ireland, Commended for Oil/Acrylic Painting 2007)

Two prison officers at HMP Pentonville Prison have died after showing symptoms of coronavirus. According to the  Prison Officers’ Association, the two men, Bovil Peter and Patrick Beckford, worked as support staff were in their 60s and were not known to have underlying health conditions.

Meanwhile it has been reported that as many as 4,000 prisoners in England and Wales are to be temporarily released in response to concerns about the pandemic sweeping through our prisons. Selected low-risk offenders, within weeks of their release dates, will be electronically tagged and temporarily released on licence in stages.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said, called the move ‘a welcome and substantial step in the right direction’. ‘Exceptional times require exceptional measures, and the public should be reassured that in this instance their protection is better served by carefully releasing some prisoners a few weeks early than by keeping them in. Prisons have never faced an emergency of this complexity or duration, and further measures will be needed in the weeks ahead,’ he said. ‘But this is a start, and the Lord Chancellor deserves credit for it.’

The Ministry of Justice is looking to identify ‘publicly owned sites that could be used to house temporary prison accommodation to ease pressure on the permanent estate’. France has announced the release of some 5,000 prisoners, while in the US state of California alone, 3,500 are being granted early release.

As of the weekend, more than a quarter (26%) of prison staff were absent or self-isolating and some 88 prisoners and 15 staff tested positive for COVID-19. ‘Prisons are moving towards single-cell accommodation as much as possible across the estate – to limit the spread of infection and the number of deaths,’ said the Ministry of Justice. ‘This follows public health advice that prisons present a unique environment where rapid outbreaks of the virus could place a significant strain on local NHS services.’

The Prison Officers’ Association’s national chair Mark Fairhurst wrote to members on Friday saying that that the guidance was clear that lockdown and social distancing needed to be observed in our jails including a ban on ‘large groups of prisoners’ congregating on landings or exercise yards. ‘There should be no association, large gatherings of prisoners, gym, non-essential workshops or education,’ he said. ‘Only vital services should be observed which include feeding, phone calls, showers and exercise in the open air. At all times social distancing should be observed.’