COVID-19: Urgent action required to protect lives

This week, the Justice Select Committee met with Jo Farrar, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), Amy Rees, the Director General of Probation and Wales, and MP Lucy Frazer, to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on prisons and probation. The Committee heard that despite plans to release 4,000 prisoners early to protect the lives of prisoners and prison staff, only 18 had been released so far. Given that 13 prisoners and 3 prison staff have now died, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) must ensure risk-assessed prisoners are released much more quickly to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The Criminal Justice Alliance has sent a second briefing to the Justice Select Committee with recommendations on sentencing, prisons, custodial monitoring and victims’ services. We have also published a tracker to monitor which of our recommendations have been implemented. We will continue to make recommendations to government to ensure the healthy and safety of prisoners, prison staff, and the general public.

Other key points from the evidence session include:

  • Jo Farrar announced that 700 prison staff were tested over the Easter weekend. HMPPS is working with the Department for Health and Social Care to deliver testing more routinely.
  • Lucy Frazer announced that the MoJ is training bail officers for every court, to reduce the number of people sent to prison.
  • The MoJ is working closely with the judiciary and CPS to ensure those on remand are released where possible. Lucy Frazer said: ‘The courts are hearing a significant number of cases where people are being held on remand and have already got their conviction but are awaiting sentence, because we suspect that when they get that sentence it might be found either that they have served their time or—this is less likely but possible—that they will be getting a non-custodial order.’

Napo, Nacro, User Voice, and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation also gave evidence. You can read a full transcript of all evidence sessions here.