Coronavirus: Prisons put on lockdown in England and Wales as it is revealed 4,300 staff members are in self-isolation
Prisons in England and Wales have been put on immediate lockdown with all visits cancelled as it emerged thousands of staff were in self-isolation.
Jo Farrar, chief executive of the Prison and Probation Service, told the Commons Justice Committee that 13 inmates had tested positive for coronavirus with confirmed cases in nine prisons at present - although others were suspected to have been affected.
She said overall around 4,300 prison and probation staff were self-isolating at the moment.
Some 3,500 were prison staff - representing about 10% of the workforce.
Around 50,000 protective masks have been delivered for staff to use and a ban on bringing hand sanitiser into the prison had been lifted.
There are also hopes to roll out tests for Covid-19 to staff in self-isolation, MPs sitting on the committee were told.
The news comes after concerns were raised about conditions at HMP Holme House in County Durham.
A source said there was a lack of protective equipment for staff as well as a shortage of soap and cleaning products.
Measures inside jails will include:
- A ban on social visits but efforts made to make more phones available to inmates
- Prisoners generally being locked up but allowed to access showers, phones and exercise - with social-distancing restrictions in place. Those who carry out kitchen, cleaning and laundry work will be allowed to continue.
- Gyms have been closed.
- Activities such as education suspended
- Prisoners are also not being brought to court for hearings, it is understood.
Asked whether measures would be effective, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told the committee "quite a proportion of the estate where there is crowding - that presents a real challenge" and many inmates were vulnerable or had underlying health conditions.
He did not rule out considering releasing prisoners when asked if this could help ease the pressure on prisons.
Mr Buckland told the committee: "I have to bring that as part of the equation."
But he said that risk would "have to be considered" as well as looking at options such as making use of release on temporary licence, bail accommodation and working out "what to do" with some 9,000 prisoners currently on remand.