Following the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI)’s recommendations regarding the next stage of the vaccine programme, which has now been shared with Ministers, we have seen some speculation in the media about the plans for vaccinating prisoners and prison staff.

We are disappointed to see that, despite media reports that members of the JCVI have acknowledged that an age-based approach is not practical for the prison estate and could lead to wastage, Ministers are not recognising the unique challenges facing prisons.

We continue to make the case for the rollout of vaccines to be for whole prison communities – for anybody who lives or works in a prison, including non-uniform staff, Chaplains, education workers, healthcare teams, charitable organisations and more. There is a clear, strong public health argument for doing so, which has been made by the World Health Organisation, and by many experts in the health and justice sectors.

Taking a whole prison approach to vaccinations would not only stop the transmission of the virus through the prison walls, and into the community, it would also be beneficial for victims of crime. The entire criminal justice system has been in lockdown, causing a backlog in court cases, delaying justice for many, and key activities that support people to be rehabilitated and make a fresh start on release have been hugely impacted. We must do everything possible to get the gears turning again and ensure we are rehabilitating people in prison so that they are less likely to reoffend on release.

We hope that Ministers will rethink this approach so that a vaccine rollout can continue without delay, and bring some much needed relief to the prisoners who have spent over 8,000 hours in their cells, to their families who have waited so long for visits, and to the hidden heroes – the prison officers and non-uniform staff who have been under enormous pressure.

Pact’s Chair of Trustees, former prison Governor Phil Taylor OBE said:

It has been devastating to see the impact of the pandemic on prisoners’ mental health, their families and all of the staff over the past year, and how, despite all of the efforts to stop the spread, sadly, many have been afflicted by this terrible virus. The vaccine has provided a ray of hope in what has been a very dark year and represents a real way out for the Prison Service. An efficient, effective vaccination rollout would give us hope of a return to a normal regime, where prisoners can maintain contact with their families, have access to education, exercise, communal worship and rehabilitative programmes, and staff can be alleviated of the immense pressure this has caused.

People who live and work in prisons understand the challenges that the environment brings, but can also recognise the opportunity it provides to quickly and effectively roll out the vaccine, given the authorisation to do so.

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Published: 3rd March 2021