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Coronavirus in European prisons
CCJS releases latest tranche of raw data from European survey of coronavirus in prison.

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Can prisons be COVID-secure places?

The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies has released the latest tranche of raw data from their survey on coronavirus in prisons in Europe

The project involves working with partners across a number of European countries to take stock of the current incidence and spread of coronavirus in prisons in Europe and assess the different policies and practices currently being pursued to limit the spread of coronavirus in prisons and reduce possible infections, illness and death.

The latest data comes from the module of the survey which sought to assess the official policy responses for managing coronavirus in prisons across Europe.

The module is based on a checklist developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to help support policy-makers and prison administrators implement the WHO’s interim guidance on preparedness, prevention and control of COVID-19 in prisons and other places of detention. 

The interim guidance contained measures recommended to prevent the virus entering prisons, to limit its spread in prisons, and to prevent transmission from within prisons to the outside community.

CCJS launched the survey in mid-April, during the peak of the pandemic in the European epicentres and received responses from Austria, Bulgaria, England and Wales, Hungary, Italy, Northern Ireland, Portugal, Scotland and Spain. 

As always, international comparisons are fraught with difficulties owing to different cultures, definitions of terms and data collection systems. The survey is also unable to distinguish between a country’s official policy and the extent to which this is (or isn’t) implemented within its custodial establishments.

Nevertheless, the report, authored by CCJS’ Matt Ford and Roger Grimshaw, makes for a fascinating read.

The data

The data are organised using the different sections of the WHO checklist:

  • human rights – to ensure good principles and practice in prisoner treatment and prison management;
  • risk assessment and management – to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in prisons and to manage the associated risks;
  • referral system and clinical management – to enable identified cases to be appropriately managed and receive adequate health care;
  • contingency planning – to check that contingency plans are in place and are adequately communicated;
  • training – to equip prison staff with skills to deal with COVID-19;
  • risk communication – to ensure message coordination and consistency, as well as their accuracy, clarity and relevance in prison settings;
  • prevention measures – to assess prevention and control facilities in prison;
  • case management – to ensure that cases are appropriately managed.


The findings from the survey are not presented in a way that can be summarised easily, so I have picked out some key facts which I hope will be of interest to readers.

  • Only Austria and Northern Ireland claim to undertake COVID risk assessments for all people (staff and visitors, new prisoners) entering prisons in their country.
  • Only Bulgaria, Italy & Spain are reported to ensure that prisoners have a least 1 hour per day “exposure to outdoor activities”.
  • Only Northern Ireland & Scotland are said to have provided all prison staff with training on basic COVID-19 disease knowledge.
  • Northern Ireland and Scotland are also the two countries where wall-mounted liquid soap dispensers are available in communal areas (toilets, showers, gyms, canteens).
  • Austria, along with Northern Ireland and Scotland are the three countries where medical masks are available for all prisoners who have or are suspected of having coronavirus.
  • England & Wales and Northern Ireland both report that isolated prisoners are medically observed at least twice a day with symptoms and temperature checked.

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