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18.01.2021 / News /

Legal Sector Workers United Prison Group Statement and Demands

As workers within the legal sector, we have witnessed firsthand the Covid-19 disaster inflicted upon the prison system.

Alongside our firm support for actions taken by incarcerated people themselves to highlight their conditions, we make the following demands:

  1. That the Covid End of Custody Temporary Release scheme which was paused in August 2020 is urgently restarted, and extended
  2. That the use of Compassionate Temporary Release is expanded
  3. That there is adequate investment in video-links for legal advice to be facilitated remotely, where appropriate, during the Covid-19 pandemic
  4. That those held on remand pending trial are released to the community, wherever possible.

The prison system has become a hub for the transmission of Covid-19, with the devastating impacts only worsened in the context of ongoing concerns of privatisation and mismanagement. Much like the NHS, prisons are becoming overwhelmed by the virus. As a result of these ongoing failings, prisoners and prison workers are falling ill and dying. Further, these failings have a disproportionate effect on prisoners from Black, Brown and Racialised Groups as well as those with underlying medical conditions[1].

Prisons have only recently become designated as ‘Covid Outbreak Sites’, despite having been fertile territory for the virus for many months. Legal workers are no longer able to effectively contact their clients to take instructions. Securing ‘justice’ in any meaningful sense is entirely compromised. Most prisons have refused or significantly reduced face to face visits since around April 2020 and many prisons are now struggling to provide even remote visits, as they do not have sufficient healthy staff to facilitate them. Some are now having to wait over a month to remotely see their lawyer after a legal visit has been requested. 

56 years after the abolition of the death penalty, incarcerated people are being subjected to a virtual death sentence in prisons. Around 11,388 of those in prison are simply being held on remand before trial, despite ongoing delays in the existing system[2]. Rates of self-harm were already at the highest level recorded in the 12 months prior to March 2020, with around ‘64,552 reported incidents of self-harm (a rate of 777 per 1,000 prisoners)’[3]’. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, this situation has only deteriorated: deaths due to Covid-19 have risen by 50% in prisons last month[4].  Most prisoners are now confined to their cells for 23 hours of the day, with limited time to contact friends, family or legal advisors. There has been inadequate consideration of the significant negative impacts to mental health.

In essence, those incarcerated are being consigned to solitary confinement. Under these circumstances, sentences and bail hearings cannot be considered in isolation to the significant impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. The judgment in R v Manning [2020] EWCA Crim 592 requires judges to recognise the additional hardship of imprisonment during a pandemic and urges for leniency in determination of sentences. We now demand that this thinking is also applied to those being sentenced, those currently serving time[5] and those being considered for bail.

Having released just 275 prisoners out of a population of around 80,000 under the two different Covid-19 early release schemes for England and Wales, on 19 August 2020, the government announced that the scheme would be ‘paused’ from the end of the month. LSWU has been inundated with horrific stories witnessed by our members or passed on from prisoners facing extreme hardship as a result of the pandemic. Those incarcerated are humans with families, friends and lives. As legal workers, we call for urgent intervention to save the lives of those incarcerated, and curb the devastating physical and psychological harm being wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic in our prisons.

The situation is desperate and we have made clear demands at the outset of this statement to seek to address the systemic failures of the prison system.  As legal workers, we continue to stand firm with those incarcerated and will support any actions taken to highlight their situation. 

Legal Sector Workers United

Legal Sector Workers United is a branch of United Voices of the World. The branch was founded in April 2019 to improve the working conditions of legal workers.

Our page: https://www.uvwunion.org.uk/en/sectors/legal-workers/

The LSWU Prisons Group is comprised of legal workers who work with those who are incarcerated.


[1] The Guardian, Nine out of Ten children of remand in London come from BAME backgrounds; Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/dec/21/nine-out-of-10-children-on-remand-in-london-come-from-bame-background

[2] Quarterly Statistics (Prison Population as of June 2020); Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/offender-management-statistics-quarterly-january-to-march-2020–2/offender-management-statistics-quarterly-january-to-march-2020

[3] Safety in Custody Statistics, March 2020. Available at: safety-in-custody-q1-2020 (publishing.service.gov.uk)

[4] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/jan/12/covid-deaths-prisons-england-wales-prisoners-coronavirus-cases?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Other

[5] Calls for a Corona Discount for Prisoners; Available at: https://insidetime.org/corona-discount-for-prisoners-retired-top-judge/

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