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Prison officers in danger 'forgotten' during coronavirus pandemic

By Richard Guttridge | Coronavirus | Published:

Prison officers have been described as the "forgotten service" of the coronavirus crisis who are putting themselves in danger every day.

Oakwood Prison

Measures have been introduced in prisons to try and stop Covid-19 from spreading but union bosses say officers will also be exposed to risk by the nature of their jobs.

Two coronavirus cases have been confirmed at HMP Oakwood near Wolverhampton, Britain's largest jail, although that figure is believed to have risen, and more elsewhere.

The Express & Star has been contacted by several prison officers from different jails claiming social distancing measures are either not being implemented or aren't working, and that there is a lack of hand sanitiser for them to use.

A total of 73 prisoners have tested positive for Covid-19 across 27 prisons and 15 prison staff from nine jails.

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Tony Merricks, from the Criminal Justice Workers Union, said: "They are still in the vicinity of prisoners even if they come out in smaller groups.

"Social distancing, let's face it, is not going to be easy. They might be let out five or 10 at a time but they will all be coming into contact with prisoners during the course of the day.

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"A lot of prisoners are sensible about it but if you imagine a prison wing, there's not a lot of room to swing a cat.

"There are issues in some prisons where they have run out of gloves and they are having to touch railings and unlock doors. There's no getting away from that.

"We have got these 85,000 people and they need to be looked after."

Mr Merricks said he believed because of the nature of their job prison officers were often overlooked in terms of working conditions.

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He said: "All supplies should be given to the NHS first, of course, but because nobody talks about prisons, reads about prisons they tend to be forgotten.

"You can't give gloves to 85,000 prisoners. They can't even give them to the NHS so they are not going to give it to prisoners.

"Prison officers are putting themselves in danger on a daily basis.

"I get prison officers ringing me up saying 'I understand the NHS is the priority, and rightly so, but can someone think about us now and again'."

The Prison Service says the safety of its staff and prisoners are its top priority and that measures are in place to reduce the risk.

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
Investigations Editor - @RichG_star

Investigations Editor for the Express & Star.

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