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Coronavirus sparks fear for older and ill prisoners in overcrowded jails

VULNERABLE prisoners are likely to die as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Prison Governors Association president Andrea Albutt said today.

Ms Albutt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that older inmates with health problems, particularly those in overcrowded prisons, were likely to be most affected by the virus as its spread worsens.

She said that the prison population had a higher proportion of people from vulnerable groups than the non-prison population.

Prison governors would “attempt to keep [family] visits going for as long as they can,” Ms Albutt said, but the association would be weighing up the public-health risk to prisoners and managing staff shortages due to employees self-isolating or being off with illness.

Howard League for Penal Reform chief executive Frances Crook stressed that hygiene and cleanliness in prisons were “essential.”

She said: “More than 200 years ago, John Howard was so concerned at how jails were spreading typhoid and cholera back into the community that he fought to get healthcare and hygiene improved.

“It took several more generations to eradicate the diseases and many people died.

“The same principles apply today. It is vital that precautions are taken to keep people safe.”

The government has published guidance stating that “contingency plans” are in place for prisons.

Justice Minister Lucy Frazer said that prisons had “existing, well-developed policies and procedures in place to manage outbreaks of infectious diseases,” including “isolating individuals” where necessary.

She added that hand-washing facilities were available to staff and visitors, and to prisoners in cells and shared areas.

The Prison Officers’ Association said that it recognised the coronavirus was “unprecedented and challenging,” and had committed to working with the government to ensure the safety of both staff and prisoners.

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