Red alert over virus outbreak at jail
70 members of staff off sick or self-isolating as Covid-19 sparks emergency at Pentonville
15 January, 2021 — By Calum Fraser
EMERGENCY measures have been brought into force at Pentonville Prison after an outbreak of coronavirus.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) confirmed this week that the Caledonian Road jail was an “outbreak site” with inmates and staff testing positive for Covid-19.
It is understood that more than 70 members of staff, out of about 470, are either off sick or having to self-isolate due to the virus and two are in hospital.
“Pentonville is an outbreak site again,” Prison Officers Association (POA) committee member Dave Cook, who represents all London jails, said: “Our members are doing incredible work under very difficult circumstances, but we are losing a lot of staff who have to isolate at home or are off sick.”
Scores of prisoners have also tested positive for the virus including 51 inmates who are on remand waiting for a trial, it has been reported.
This comes after two employees at the prison, Bovil Peter and Patrick Beckford, died last year suffering from Covid-19.
Strict measures are now in place meaning a majority of the roughly 1,000 inmates are confined to their cells for up to 23 hours a day with rehabilitation and educational workshops suspended and visitations restricted to exceptional cases on compassionate grounds.
Staff have to wear surgical masks and sanitation stations are spread out around the prison.
Barry Baker, co-chairman of Pentonville’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), said: “The current figures [for covid cases] have been going up quite steeply since the end of December.
“We have to praise the officers who are doing a remarkable job going into work knowing there is an outbreak and operating under those conditions along with the usual pressures.”
There are also outbreaks in HMP Brixton and Wormwood Scrubs, Mr Cook said.
In December, 24 prisoners died in jails across England and Wales either having tested positive for Covid-19 or where there was a clinical assessment that the virus was a contributory factor in their deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 71.
Nearly 2,400 prisoners tested positive in December almost doubling the total number of confirmed cases to 4,800.
The increase in prison cases comes as cases surge in the community with a new, more transmissible variant of the virus.
A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “Carefully implemented measures in our prisons – including shielding the vulnerable, rolling out mass testing and introducing safe regimes – have undoubtedly prevented many deaths and limited transmission.”
The MoJ plans to test prisoners when they arrive from court in a bid to cut the spread of the virus.