Portable single cells, currently being used to provide extra accommodation in prisons, could be “doubled up” with bunk beds to cope with increasing prisoner numbers. The Ministry of Justice announced it would obtain up to 3,000 temporary units (pods) to reduce cell-sharing in English and Welsh prisons in response to concerns about the transmission of COVID-19. As of April 2021, 193 prisoners and probation service users have died of COVID-19 with infections among prisoners at some 16,676. So far there has only been one occupant per pod.
According to a report in Inside Time, the Prison Service is now prepared to place two prisoners in each pod, if necessary. A spokesperson for the Prison Service told the newspaper that some of the units, which are 2.9m by 3.4m, ‘can be converted into doubles with the use of a bunk for two occupants’.
Francis Crook, chief executive of the Howard League called it a ‘panic measure’ and ridiculous, describing how it was ‘inappropriate to put two people in’. Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, stated that ‘it would be a terrible step backwards’ and the plans resulted in ‘decent accommodation [being] made indecent’.
In December 2020, the Ministry of Justice announced that an additional 1,000 pods to the original 2,000 were a solution to rising prisoner numbers. They forecast that the prison population in England and Wales will rise from 79,000 from February 2021 to 98,700 by 2026. This would be driven by the reopening of courts and the addition of 20,000 more police officers. Antonia Romeo, the most senior civil servant at the Ministry of Justice, previously described the move as a ‘game changer’ in ensuring there was enough prison places.