This week, justice secretary Robert Buckland appeared before the Justice Select Committee again to discuss the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) response to COVID-19. Jo Farrar, Chief Executive, HM Prisons and Probation Service and Susan Acland-Hood, Chief Executive, HM Courts and Tribunals Service, were also in attendance. They discussed courts, prisoner release, and resettlement of prison leavers. See some key points below.
- Jo Farrar conceded that 10,000 and 15,000 prisoners would need to be released to ensure one prisoner per cell
- However, prisoner release is not the only plan in place; there will be new accommodation in some prisons from next week to provide enhanced facilities for vulnerable people, with better health care provision and more isolation and shielding
- Only six pregnant prisoners have been released so far
- The proposals on temporary release extend to youth estate
- The government is also looking at prisoners with acute health issues who might be vulnerable on a case by-case basis
- There will be a quicker pace of release after Easter weekend
- There are no current plans to release category D prisoners; the MoJ is focusing on category B prisons, where the COVID-19 risk is more acute
- The MoJ is working with the Department of Work and Pensions on universal credit provision. People are being sent out with extra £80 provision
- When asked whether tagging is necessary for those due to be released within two weeks under normal circumstances, Robert Buckland said this gives the public peace of mind
- The work of courts is proceeding in ‘novel, transformative ways’; there has been a tenfold rise in the number of cases dealt with by phone or video
- HMPPS are interested in working with local probation and community providers who could volunteer to help deliver services
- Robert Buckland said that if there were opportunities to allow bail on conditions addressing Bail Act concerns, courts were ready to hear them and deal with them expeditiously. He said that a combined approach of listing and hearing bail applications would ease the prison population but not make a substantial difference
- Robert Buckland also said that he is not persuaded short sentences should be abolished
The meeting was held in private and as such there is no recording on Parliament TV. However, the Justice Select Committee has published a summary note.
Last week, the Criminal Justice Alliance made a number of recommendations on how the MoJ can ease the burden of COVID-19 on the criminal justice system and save lives.