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The prison population and coronavirus
COVID-19 lockdown
My scrutiny of the prison population in England and Wales during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Tracking COVID in our prisons

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, a coalition of penal reform charities, criminal justice commentators and all those concerned with the health and well-being of our prisoners have been calling for a swift reduction in our prison population.

There was a clear consensus that prison conditions, with a minimum of 15,000 people in prison sharing cells designed for one person, make it very likely that high numbers of prisoners and the staff caring for them will be infected.

Early release

Although there was a lot of discussion about early release, the MoJ only actually liberated 316 people before their release date in the summer of 2020. Those released early were a combination of women in Mother and Baby Units and people within two months of their release date.


Monitoring of COVID in prison

The purpose of this blog post is to scrutinise the impact of coronavirus on people in prison.

Every Friday, I update this post with the latest official figures to show the number of people in prison and the number of positive COVID tests. The post also gives weekly updates on the numbers of people in prison who have tragically lost their lives to the virus. The early release scheme was suspended on 31 August 2020.

However, I have continued to track the prison population and the impact of COVID (in terms of deaths and positive tests) since the imposition of the first national lockdown in March 2020. You can see the full date below.

Prison population updated 21 June 2024

The chart has been updated with today’s official statistics. The prison population now stands at 87,395, an increase of 48 on last week.  We remain close to record levels with the prison population more than 1,900 higher than this time last year. If you hover over the data points on the chart below, you can see the official figure for every month from the start of the pandemic to the present day.

It is clear that the courts are making very slow progress catching up with the backlog of cases which built up throughout the first period of lockdown. Indeed, in the most recent quarter, backlogs in both Crown and Magistrates’ courts rose substantially, contributing to our growing remand crisis. Further down this blog post you can see the latest (up to the end of December 2023) data on the backlogs for both Magistrates’ and Crown Courts.

Coronavirus deaths

The MoJ HMPPS COVID-19 official statistics updated on 10 March 2023 with information up to 28 February 2023 show that:

  • 307 prisoners and supervised individuals have died having tested positive within 60 days of death or where there was a clinical assessment COVID-19 was a contributory factor in their death. Of whom 215 were prisoners and 92 were individuals supervised by the probation service. There were no deaths in February 2023. There was an historic death reported during the month. There have been no deaths of children in custody.
  • Of the 307 deaths, 243 were suspected or confirmed to be caused by COVID-19, of whom 160 were prisoners and 83 were supervised individuals. Of the 33 deaths since February 2022, 9 are suspected or confirmed to be due to COVID-19.
  • 49,510 prisoners or children in custody have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, across 130 establishments, almost all of whom were adults.
  • There were 201 new confirmed cases in February 2023, this is 53 fewer than in January 2023.
  • 32 establishments had prisoners testing positive in February 2023, a decrease of 4 compared with January 2023.

The grim chart below records the monthly deaths of people in prison and on probation who have tested positive for COVID.


Positive COVID tests

I have created a new animated chart tracking the number of positive COVID tests in prison on monthly basis below:
Total Positive COVID Tests in Prison

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Related posts

Coping with COVID in prison

Peer research with 1,600 people in prison reveals the fully impact of living through the pandemic inside.

Global prison trends 2021

Efforts to prevent COVID-19 have come at a huge cost to people detained and working in prisons according to Penal Reform International.

3 responses

  1. This is outrageous that our loved ones are put in danger daily by staff have all staff had their valine injection done it has to be staff that is bringing this into prisoners as families are tested

    1. Prisoners are regularly transferred between prisons during their sentence and, for some inexplicable reason, this continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. I was housed at HMP LIVERPOOL and HMP RISLEY during the duration of the pandemic (2020-2022) and, at times, we seemed to have more arrivals and departures than Heathrow Airport! On one particular day in December 2020 (at the peak of the pandemic) my wing at HMP Liverpool received 20 prisoners from HMP Birmingham. I was astonished at the stupidity. Within a few weeks, 3 prisoners on the wing had died (out of a total of 150), others were hospitalised and around 25% were confirmed COVID-19 positive. It was only at this point that the Govenor shut down the wing and we were confined to our cells 24/7 for 3 weeks) Showers were cancelled and meals were delivered by the Trustees and the Prison Officers.

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