The UK is lagging behind Europe on coronavirus in prisons

On 21st April 2020 Juliet Rix interviews Richard Garside

The director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies says our government’s approach is putting prisoners and the public at risk

“Inaction by government on Covid-19 in UK prisons is putting not just prisoners’ lives at risk but also prison staff, and the general public,” says Richard Garside, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, which has just launched a Europe-wide project to collate and compare the measures taken by different governments and prison systems.

“If you set out to create an institution with the express intent of concentrating and transmitting Covid-19, it would probably look much like a prison,” he adds, especially one as overcrowded as many in the UK.

Richard Coker, a leading epidemiologist and emeritus professor of public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, agrees. He describes prisons as “epidemiological pumps”.

To deal with overcrowding, prisons have been told to “cohort”– quarantine sick prisoners together. “But without proper testing,” Garside points out, “this will be putting people with ordinary colds and flu in with Covid-19 cases and risking lives.” 

Cells may also be treated as households, so if one inmate develops symptoms, all occupants of that cell have to isolate together. “And some cells do not even have the facilities to wash your hands,” he adds.

“Even a short sentence for a minor crime is potentially a death sentence, puts staff at ongoing risk and provides a pool of reinfection for the wider community.”

Read article in The Guardian