It has not been mentioned much yet..but it will.
Although not strictly a National Security risk considered within the realms of MI6 or MI5 jurisdiction at least, with COVID-19, almost everything is a National Security risk. It is after all a foreign body that is killing British Citizens, so it sort of fits the bill. A potential problem we have been keeping a watchful eye on is the condition of the prisoners and the prison system in general. We have only just had our first confirmed case of Coronavirus in a Prison, Strangeways in Manchester, which is remarkable. Not because its in Manchester, but that this has not happened well before now. Other countries have reacted differently, with some releasing prisoners for fears of ‘cluster amplification’. A term used by Professor Richard Coker, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and quoted in a recent Guardian article. One of only a very few so far. With fears of public panic already a key priority of the Government and its PR machine, one can’t help feel this one has been kept locked up for good reason. If maintaining calm in already stretched and is not bad enough, the thought of chaos or a risk to the state of order in the UK prison system is something we could all ill afford. However, it is going to happen and at the moment the policy of isolating any prisoners suspected to have been contaminated seems to be working remarkably well. Also, it is not so much a question of if, but when the number of cases in UK prisons begins to escalate to its first plateau, how robust are the current contingency plans to efficiently shepherd those testing positively to the right areas of isolation. Simply locking them up in the cells will not be sufficient or indeed humane. Equally, simply releasing prisoner’s carte blanche is not viable. So, it is, as with nearly every intricate capillaceous branch of each new ‘problem event’ in this scenario, a logistical headache of mammoth proportions.
Reducing the burden on NHS staff is understandably a priority and will remain so, but as time elapses and ‘plateaus one and two’ start to emerge, there will be respite and time to focus on ensuring the stable delivery of other fundamental services such as those carried out by the prison officers, the staff, and not least, the judicial system itself which will inevitably come under the spotlight the longer this event continues. As we have written several times so far in various articles here, the public really does have very little choice other than to have faith in the Government and the machine it is overseeing to put into place the plans (hopefully) drawn up and dissected in detail in the years building up to this. Anything else is inconceivable. For that to happen, the relevant agencies and civil servants, magistrates, judges and the whole host of support staff who oversee the transition of prison mates to different levels will be called into action. Early releases will have to be considered but only after appropriate testing and will of course be dependent on the type and severity of crime.
The longer the event continues, the likelihood increases of a directive being issued to modify the sentences being handed out and therefore an inevitable increase in the number of non-custodial sentences. These risk mitigation procedures should have and will have been planned for but are unlikely to kick start until signs emerge that we are reaching the first plateau. A time to take stock and regroup. Until then, as with the prison community we, like them, are in lockdown.