POA demands PPE and testing as two prison workers die of coronavirus

Two staff members at Pentonville Prison have died from coronavirus.

POA national chairman Mark Fairhurst paid tribute to Bovil Peter and Patrick Beckford , saying: “My thoughts and prayers are with everybody involved in these tragic deaths – two at the same prison is very concerning.”

In a message to POA members, Mark Fairhurst wrote: “I have spoken with the Secretary of State Robert Buckland about the lack of PPE and COVID-19 testing for staff. He has confirmed that additional PPE has been secured and is due to arrive in the country on 6th April, specifically for prison staff use.

“You should now be able to secure existing PPE from regional hubs. Prison staff have been prioritised for COVID-19 testing and there are plans to begin testing. As soon as a date for testing is confirmed I will relay it to you.

“I wish to finish by relaying my total respect and admiration for you all during these most difficult of times, wherever you may work and whatever role you are performing. Please remember that your NEC is here for you all and we will continue to address the issues that you highlight to us.”

The deaths come the day after the government announced plans to begin the early release of low risk prisoners as early as next week. In a private meeting with the POA the Lord Chancellor confirmed up to 4,000 prisoners within the last two months of their Automatic Early Release date would be released under home detention curfew conditions, which requires them to wear an ankle tag and have stable accommodation in place.

Mark Fairhurst said: “I welcome any measures that relieve the pressure on our brave frontline staff during these unprecedented times and I support this declaration by the Secretary of State for Justice. It is essential that those being released pose no risk to the public and get tested for CIOVID 19 prior to release. Victims of crime should not be forgotten when such decisions are made and a balance must be struck between the safety of staff and the general public”.

POA general secretary Steve Gillan said: “This is a good decision by the Lord Chancellor and one in which I support. This is critical to free up spaces in our jails and could be the difference between life and death during this pandemic. This needs to be done quickly and effectively if it is to have any impact on our over crowded prisons.

“Safety of our members and those in our care are essential during this COVID-19 crisis. But there can be no delay in these Executive releases as each day is critical to stopping the virus spreading in our prison system.”

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