As most of the attention is focused on the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s deteriorating health, the coronavirus crisis rages unnoticed in the darkest corners of Britain, namely the country’s prisons.
So far nine prisoners have died in UK jails after contracting COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
Three of the prisoners were at HMP Littlehey in Cambrideshire, while the rest were in Belmarsh (London), Altmore (Merseyside), Whatton (Nottinghamshire), Low Newton (County Durham) and HMP Manchester.
In addition, according to the Prison Officer’ Association (POA), two prison officers at Pentonville Prison in north London have died after displaying symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
As of April 05 a total of 107 prisoners in England and Wales had tested positive for coronavirus, whilst according to the POA a total of 19 prison staff have also tested positive.
To underline the crisis in British prisons, it has been reported that 7,200 prison staff are currently absent for fear of falling victim to the coronavirus.
Fears of a major disaster in prisons were exacerbated after justice secretary, Robert Buckland, claimed late last month that 2,000 prisoners with underlying health issues were acutely vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Yet despite the obvious risks the government is undertaking actions which aggravate the threat.
The most controversial policy centers around “cohorting”, where inmates who have tested positive for coronavirus are kept in the same cells with those who are “suspected” of having the virus, thus increasing the risk of transmission and widespread infection.
Furthermore, contrary to the actions of many governments around the world, the British government is refusing to temporarily release sizeable number of prisoners in order to relieve pressure on an overwhelmed prison service.
So far, the government has promised to release only 4,000 low-risk offenders in England and Wales.
According to the Ministry of Justice the offenders will be electronically tagged and released on license in stages, but could be recalled to prison at the first sign of concern.
The justice secretary, Buckland, is set to face MP’s later today where he is expected to be questioned about the justice system’s response to the coronavirus crisis.