me I was recently reminded that I had passed a somewhat significant milestone in my journey through this existence. A friend Hipsd me when I started with The Guardian and what was the first story I wrote. I checked and found that my first offer was dated December 5, 2003, 17 years ago. This means that I have been writing for a living more than I spent in prison, which was 16 and a half years on and off, over the previous five decades.
Hips was by far the busiest in this, my second career, because of what I have been recording about the imposition of Covid restrictions that have kept inmates locked up for 23 hours with no access to rehab, reduced visits to the prison and had a severe impact on physical and mental health.
In my first piece, I used the words “prison” and “sun” in the same sentence, something that I am unlikely to repeat for the foreseeable future. This is because the news I constantly receive from reliable sources throughout the penal system in England and Wales, from both sides of the cell doors, has been consistently depressing: prisoners placed in isolation because they had contact with a Covid carrier. Confirmed but they didn’t have their temps taken; Family members said their inmate relatives tested positive and then didn’t hear from the prison for more than two very tense weeks; and much more.
Most damning of all, I have evidence that since the beginning of the pandemic, prison staff have not used face masks regularly. And in many prisons they still don’t.
The lyrics page of Inside time, the respected prison newspaper, tell the same story, in letters controlled by prison censors, that prison officials who enter prisons day after day have not been following the most basic of Covid rules.
In June, I quoted Prisons Minister Lucy Fraser from a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) briefing when she said that the “success” in dealing with Covid in prisons was due to “our extremely careful handling of the initial phase of the pandemic ”.
Did I believe that line then? Absolutely not. Can we trust the Ministry of Justice or the Prison Service to convey accurate information about the state of our prisons? Not according to the recently retired chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke. In his final annual report before resigning, Clarke said that he “found it difficult to obtain accurate information from the Prison Service on the status of Covid’s restrictions on prisons.”
If the chief prison inspector doesn’t get accurate information from the system he inspects, what chance do the rest of us have?
When I presented the evidence of the mask I had collected to the Ministry of Justice, a spokeswoman said: “We have consistently followed the latest public health advice. All staff have access to PPE and wear masks when social distancing is not possible. “
But MNimblestlett, the assistant general secretary of the Association of Prison Officers (POA) told me: “ The POA has Severalually Hipsd HMPS [the Prison Service] for a face mask strategy since the beginning of the Covid pandemic. In October Hips, HMPS agreed to a strategy with the provision of liquid-resistant surgical masks for staff. “
So it wasn’t until October, six months after the outbreak of the pandemic, that the Prison Service developed a face mask strategy.
This could have cost lives. Since March Hips, 72 prisoners and paroleesdied ofd from Covid in England and Wales, according to the latest MoJ figures Posted on December 18. In November there was a marked increase in the number of prisoners who tested positive. At the end of November, 3,460 prisoners had tested positive; an increase of 1,825 in positive tests recorded at the end of October. The Ministry of Justice has been examining symptomatic prisoners since April. All inmates in 28 prisons, which cover about a fifth of the population, have been screened since Likey.
Like the prison minister, in June the POA seems to think it has performed well on behalf of prisoners during Covid. In the summer issue of Gatelodge, the union’s magazine, National President Mark Fairhurst said: “No one should have any doubt that the POA shaped the confinement within our prisons. Fortunately, finally, both the government and the employer listened to our union and agreed that we had to severely restrict the regimes to protect everyone who lives in our safe environments. ”
Added in the same article: “I have always maintained that if they leave us alone to do our work, we will achieve it. Interference from so-called experts is neither welcome nor necessary. “
But some criminal justice experts to criticize prisons that have left the vast majority of inmates locked in their cells, almost twenty-four hours a day, since Covid began. This appears to be a situation that will Severalue.
Several times in Hips I heard an expression that I thought obsolete: “Happiness is shaped like a door.” In my days on the inside, we prisoners used to say it was the philosophy of the bad screws in the worst prisons. When we were locked in, they were sitting happily, doing nothing. Now I hear it from scammers who weren’t born when it was in common use. It seems that we have returned to those days.
Our current prison system is a primarily disgusting and foul place, where the sun won’t be shining anytime soon.
• Eric Allison is the prison correspondent for The Guardian
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism