Coronavirus Situation in English and Welsh Prisons

In England and Wales,  the situation is grave. The number of confirmed coronavirus infections continue to rise. Last week the Justice Secretary Robert Buckland revealed in parliament that there are nearly 2,000 prisoners who had health conditions that, were they living in the community, would result in their being shielded. Instead, they are in unhygienic, over-crowded prisons, where social distancing and shielding is impossible. For some, prison risks being a death sentence.

There are reports that at least one prison is breaching guidelines by placing prisoners who have tested positive for coronavirus in cells with prisoners who have not. There are also reports that a quarter of prison staff are absent due to coronavirus-related issues.

On Wednesday the president of the Prison Governors’ Association, told The Daily Telegraph that 'Prisons are now at the point where a decision must be made and implemented immediately on early release of prisoners'. While the situation remains very unpredictable, there is no sign, at time of writing, that the Justice Secretary is willing to make this necessary call. Indeed, the government instead appears to be directing its energies into expanding prison capacity, including in immigration detention centres, army barracks, and police and court cells, rather than taking the decisive steps needed to prevent needless deaths and infection in prisons.

The scale of the potential coronavirus crisis in prison requires action of an appropriate seriousness and ambition. It is time for the Justice Secretary to show that he is up to this challenge.

Domestic Abuse in the Time of Coronavirus

[Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić has expressed concern about an increase in domestic violence during the lockdowns due to the corona virus. Reports from member countries in the past few weeks already have shown that women and children are now at greater risk of abuse within their own homes.]

Anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse regardless of sex or gender identity, cultural heritage or ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or belief, or disability. There are different kinds of abuse that can happen in different contexts. The most prevalent type of domestic abuse occurs in relationships, but the definition of domestic abuse also covers abuse between family members, such as adolescent or adult child to parent violence and abuse and abuse between siblings.

People with disabilities are more vulnerable to domestic abuse for longer periods of time, and experience more severe and frequent abuse than non-disabled people.

Perpetrators are not all the same and the factors that lead them to using violence and aggression in their intimate relationships can be as individual as the people themselves. There is an increasing understanding that domestic abuse is a child safeguarding issue, and the damaging effects that either witnessing or experiencing it can have on children are well documented.

Domestic Abuse Isn’t Caused By Coronavirus – We’ve Been Ignoring Women For Years

It starts small, with employers assuming that female employees can’t trusted to work from home, or governments advising women to avoid “nagging” during lockdown. It ends with a “domestic abuse surge” which is blamed, not on perpetrators and the choices they make, but on the unique circumstances in which they find themselves (somehow these circumstances are always “unique”). As Annie Brown writes, “domestic abuse was an epidemic long before we heard of coronavirus”. What the current pandemic has done is place it into sharper focus, since families in isolation are more at risk than ever.

Lockdown is not a cause of abuse, but a means by which it is made visible, its consequences suddenly accelerated. It’s a distinction we need to make clear – for the our ability to deal with it now relies on an understanding of its roots. Right now, we are witnessing a particular urgency in efforts to support victims of domestic abuse. Priti Patel, the home secretary, has announced that victims may leave their homes during lockdown to seek help at refuges; domestic abuse experts are calling on the UK government to provide emergency funds to house those in need; in France, the government is pledging to house victims in hotels.

Read more: Independent,