POA Circulars

131 | 11.09.2020

NATIONAL CHAIR UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2020

EASING OF REGIME RESTRICTIONS
As local committees continue to work on Exceptional Delivery Models that will progress regimes from level 3 to level 2, we should remain vigilant to the threat of COVID in our secure settings. It is important that we have sufficient staffing levels to progress regimes. If we do not have safe staffing levels, then we cannot progress regimes.

The Government has recently announced the rule of 6 to the nation. This does not apply in Prisons as outlined below:

On 8th September 2020, HM Government announced that from Monday 14th September 2020, social gatherings of more than six people will be illegal in England. However, prisons and secure custodial settings are exempt both as “workplaces” and on the basis that we operate in a COVID secure manner with significant COVID controls, including reverse cohorting of every prisoner on arrival. Establishments therefore do not need to make any changes to their regime delivery on account of the latest Government announcement.

This announcement does however signal an increased level of community infection and we must be vigilant at this time notably to the risk of infection incursion. The level of infection in prisons remains low and therefore we must be alert to the transmission of the infection through staff, through escorts and bedwatches, those released on temporary licence and social and professional visitors. Adherence to our safe operating procedures is the best way to manage this risk.

 


UK Government have also announced the latest round of localised restrictions in different parts of the country and some of these restrictions will affect prisons, albeit to varying degrees. Recently announced restrictions in Bolton affect the operation of hospitality businesses and introduce a ban on the mixing of households. Criminal Justice settings such as prisons are exempt from such regulations and therefore these restrictions will not affect social visits or any other areas. We expect the exemption from restrictions in Bolton to be typical of the localised restrictions we will see in other areas. However, there may be cases where prison settings are not exempt, and we cannot assume it will always be the case. We will nationally monitor these changes and notify you accordingly.

Caerphilly Borough Council have yesterday introduced more stringent localised restrictions. With immediate effect residents from Caerphilly will not be able to enter or leave the County Borough Council area without “exceptional excuse”. Everyone over 11 will be required to wear face coverings indoors with limited exemptions. People will only be able to meet outdoors and will not be able to meet those from other households indoors, people will not be able to form an extended household with others and will not be permitted to travel without “exceptional excuse”. Welsh Government officials have advised that people from within the Caerphilly County Borough should not travel out of the County for the purposes of a prison visit.

We are legally advised that prisons are unable to impose blanket restrictions or ban visitors from making a social visit booking based on their home location. However Governors are able to make decisions about whether to permit entry to social visits on a case by case basis and are therefore advised to determine whether mitigations in place in a visit facility are sufficient to enable a visit to take place, should a member of the public arrive from within the Caerphilly restricted area, considering the public health guidance that they present a higher risk. We must consider the Article 8 rights of children and families in our decisions and also whether there are exceptional compassionate reasons to permit a visit if there is a concern. The escalation of controls to manage the risk may be one means to manage the increased risk but permit it to still go ahead. Establishments are advised to check home postcodes of any arriving visitor (using the existing data supplied when booking a visit) to determine whether they are from Caerphilly and to consider whether their visit should be permitted to proceed. Establishments may wish to utilise the online postcode linked below for this purpose. https://www.gov.uk/find-local-council

Queries related to the implementation of localised restrictions should be directed to COVID19.Regimes&OpsGuidance@justice.gov.uk in the first instance.


SHIELDING STAFF ANNUAL LEAVE
It has been brought to the attention of the NEC that some operational staff who have been shielding may have had annual leave taken from them if they had been shielding during a bank holiday. Staff should be aware of the following:

Operational staff do not get additional time off for bank holidays therefore Special Leave with Pay should be applied, unless superseded by a period of (pre-booked) annual leave.

If any staff returning from shielding have had annual leave taken from them from a bank holiday, that they had previously not booked, or if they have had that leave taken from them because they have been on sick leave, they should immediately raise this issue with their line manager and ask for that leave to be recredited. If denied a grievance should be submitted.

Local committees are encouraged to clarify this position with their SMT.


RECOVERY REGIME MANAGEMENT PLANS (RRMP) AND REGIME MANAGEMENT PLANS (RMP)
There have been concerns raised from branches that some Governors are attempting to change aspects of the RRMP to progress regimes when it is clearly unsafe to do so or no agreement has been reached locally. There is also a misconception that local committees are not allowed to raise a dispute as per PSO 8525, due to Covid. There have also been some concerns raised around adherence to agreed RRMP’s when staffing levels have become challenging. Covid remains a threat and the agreed RRMP should always be followed without exception to ensure the safety of staff and prisoners.

Committees should be aware that they can still raise disputes and all RRMP documents should be agreed, including full engagement and additional facility time. Engagement logs should be kept proving that local POA committees have been adequately consulted. If you cannot agree an RRMP please contact your area NEC representative who will advise on next steps.

Moving forward all committees are encouraged to formulate and agree an RMP, so when we fully recover from Covid we can ensure our regimes remain safe and stable, we have agreed minimum staffing levels in place and we ensure staffing levels in each area are sufficient to provide a safe regime.

It should be noted that at this time association is not a purposeful activity and there is no scope at all to facilitate association periods when prisoners are unlocked.

If any local committee needs assistance with any aspects of the RRMP or RMP please contact your area NEC representative.


STAFF FITNESS TESTING
HMPPS are making plans to reintroduce the annual fitness test for staff in October. The NEC are pursuing the abolition of the fitness test in favour of a health screening programme for staff. We are still in discussions with HMPPS about their plans to reintroduce the fitness test in October, as we have concerns about restarting this process whilst Covid is still prevalent. Governors have been told to place on hold plans to reintroduce fitness testing until consultation with the NEC has been exhausted. Once there is a clear position the membership will be updated.
C&R TRAINING
Local annual C&R refreshers can now commence but the Safe Operating Procedure (SOP) must be adhered to. All prisons should have a copy of the C&R SOP and should ensure relevant PPE, social distancing and cleaning of the DOJO area is adhered to.


SECURE HOSPITALS
Colleagues in the secure Psychiatric Hospitals have raised concerns surrounding the searching of patients and their rooms. Due to the risk Covid poses when searching POA committees in our secure hospitals’ settings are encouraged to ascertain from their trust managers the following information:

i) Are all staff trained in searching techniques on patients and their rooms?
ii) The training programme and syllabus for searching techniques.
iii) A copy of the Risk Assessment and Safe System of Work for searching
iv) The guidance surrounding the use of PPE when searching takes place.
I would like to thank our committees in our secure hospitals for the positive work they continue to do which has seen a significant increase in POA membership in our secure psychiatric settings.


PAY AWARD
The 2.5% pay award for all operational bands 2-5 will be paid in Septembers salary backdated to 1st April 2020.

Finally, I would like all members to take a moment to thank their local POA committees who continue to do commendable work on your behalf. As we continue to ease restrictions and increase regime delivery it is vital that we continue to support each other and remain vigilant. Allowing large unmanageable numbers of prisoners to be unlocked at any one-time places us all at risk and will undo our achievements in reducing violence. Please continue to work safely.

If any branch would like me to address a socially distant branch meeting please contact me and I will happily oblige.

Thank you for your continued work on the frontline, we will continue to support you however you demand.

All the best.


MARK FAIRHURST
National Chair