Coronavirus: Government planning emergency response for prisons after deadly riots left 12 inmates dead in Italy

·2-min read

Emergency plans to prevent disruption in UK prisons have been drawn up by the government after riots over coronavirus restrictions in Italy left 12 inmates dead and more than 40 staff injured.

The proposals include ensuring that isolated prisoners can contact their families and providing extra reading material to combat boredom, according to the BBC.

In Italy,protests erupted in jails across the country — which is on lockdown over the virus — after authorities stopped or limited normal family visits.

Twelve inmates died, mostly as a result of overdoses on drugs taken from the medical room during the disorder, while 16 prisoners escaped.

Family and friends of inmates in the UK have been urged not to visit prisons if they have a high temperature or a new continuous cough, under new advice issued by the Ministry of Justice on Friday.

Alternative contact methods include the prison voicemail exchange service and writing letters.

“We understand that prisoners and their loved ones might be concerned about the situation,” said prisons minister Lucy Frazer.

“But we can assure them that we will continue to operate normal regimes, with the minimum disruption, for as long as we can.

“We are looking into ways to keep prisoners in close contact with their families in all eventualities, and will share further information as and when necessary.”

So far there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the prison system but campaigners have warned of the risk of it spreading “like wildfire”.

“Hygiene and cleanliness are essential to protect staff, prisoners and visitors and to prevent the spread of infectious diseases,” said Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform.

“Many prisons are filthy and disgustingly unhygienic. Staff, visitors and inmates are not able to wash and soap is frequently impossible to obtain.”

According to the Whitehall plans seen by the BBC, inmates will be isolated in single accommodation if they have had contact with a known coronavirus patient.

Ministers have not ruled out releasing some prisoners or using other buildings as makeshift jails to cope with an epidemic, it is claimed.

However campaign groups have urged the government to immediately release detainees at immigration centres and prisoners reaching the end of their sentences.

Liberty and nine other human rights organisations have signed an open letter warning that “there is a very real risk of an uncontrolled outbreak of Covid-19 in immigration detention”.

And Richard Garside, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies charity, said: “It should go without saying that by *not* starting a managed early release programme for prisoners now, the government is also increasing the risk to prison staff of contracting coronavirus.”

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