Please bring the contents of this Circular to the attention of all members.

The NEC are currently working on Exceptional Delivery Models that will enable restrictions to be lifted in a cautious and safe manner. Local committees should be fully engaged on all consultations in relation to EDMs. Facility time has been approved and committees can view the draft EDMs. The priorities now surround education provision in the YCS estate, wing-based activities (not association) in the absence of non-essential workshops and education access in the adult estate, plus social and legal visits. Many branches are under the impression that restrictions will be lifted on July 6th. This is not the case. Governors have been asked to consider transitioning to a level 3 regime from July 6th. It is not a stipulation or a mandate that they must start easing restrictions on that day.

Some Prisons will be ready to ease restrictions before others. The easing of restrictions must be in agreement with local POA committees. We are moving away from lockdown from July 6th only if it is safe to do so. It is envisaged there will only be a handful of sites ready to do so at this time. There is a strict Governance programme in place and all plans must be approved by the PGD and signed off by COVID Gold before any restrictions are lifted.

Local committees must be afforded appropriate facility time to engage and agree delivery plans. Please access POA Circular 107/20 for full details of increased facility time.

Please contact your Area NEC Rep if you need advice and guidance when beginning consultation over your EDMs.

We have issued a Joint Statement with HMPPS that confirms our commitment to partnership working as we enter the recovery phase. Staff should note the following:

There will be no immediate changes to the current prison regimes that are in place, but planning work for how HMPPS moves forward safely in the near future is now underway.

Please ensure you continue to observe your restricted regime until your local POA committee have reached agreement with your SMT and have deemed it safe to ease restrictions.

PHE’s preferred approach would be to adopt a national risk assessment framework to support a decision on the state of readiness of any establishment, as part of the readiness assessment for prisons set out in the Prisons National Framework. The framework would consider a range of metrics and intelligence to inform the assessment including:

  • Is the prison in recovery from outbreak i.e. 28 days (2 incubation periods) or more since the last case diagnosed in prisoner or staff member? Including signals from Track and Trace programme indicating level of staff cases.
  • The category of prison i.e. a reception prison will likely have a higher risk of infection and prisons with higher older population levels more impacted by outbreaks whereas YOI less so.
  • Are adequate infection prevention and control measures in place? Considering issues identified by HMIP, CQC, PHE or NHS.
  • Assessment of organisational capacity – based on HMPPS. HMIP or other reviews on business continuity, local intelligence, family/user feedback.
  • Evidence of violence, self-harm and suicide based on locally collected prison level data.
  • External context e.g. outbreak in nearby hospital, information from Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) on local prevalence.

It will also be important to remain open to developments in the wider community e.g. care home settings and evidence based on current research studies and lessons learnt that may be transferable to custodial settings.

From a public health perspective, it is essential that key decisions on moving to stage 3 are informed by careful consideration by all the relevant partners of the potential health and social impact of easing current restrictions. PHE would expect to be involved in providing advice to support the development of Exceptional Delivery Model (EDMs) and Regime Recovery Management Plans (RRMPs). Public Health England remain committed to working collaboratively with HMPPS and NHS England partners at both a national and local/establishment level as we move into the recovery phase of our response to COVID-19.

Local committees are encouraged to engage with their local PHE/PHW contact within region, when formulating Regime Recovery Management Plans (RRMP), so all the above criteria can be satisfied.

Research has been commissioned that involves the testing of Prisoners and staff in 28 establishments. The target date is 20th July, the sites have been picked based on geography, functional category, prisons that have had outbreaks and prisons that have not.

Testing will be conducted in partnership with Public Health England and Optima Health. It involves taking a swab of throat and nostrils. The aim is to learn about the spread of the disease and how it is transmitted between individuals and prison sites. Results will assist to understand the virus and manage it going forward. The tests are purely voluntary. The POA fully support this initiative.

Contact tracing will be initiated on receipt of a laboratory confirmed positive COVID-19 test result for any prison or health staff member, prisoner or visitor.

  • Direct contact without PPE: Face to face contact with a laboratory confirmed case of COVID-19, including being coughed on, a face to face conversation, unprotected physical contact (skin to skin) or travel in a small vehicle with a case. This includes exposure within 1 metre for 1 minute or longer.
  • Proximity contact without PPE: Extended close contact (between 1 and 2 metres for more than 15 minutes) with a case.
  • Person who has had contact (see below) at any time from 48 hours before onset of symptoms (or test if asymptomatic) to 7 days after onset of symptoms (or test).
  • Please note:
    o A person who wore appropriate PPE or maintained appropriate social distancing (over 2 meters) would not be classed as a contact.
    o Contacts of asymptomatic contacts do not require self-isolation; this includes households and work colleagues.

Prisons will support obtaining the information on contacts from within the prison setting, mainly other prison staff or prisoners. For example, staff rotas, cell movement history and CCTV, rosters for non-operational staff and partner agencies can be used to support the process of identifying contacts and verifying levels of contact.

Prisons will adopt the track and trace system to ensure the spread of COVID is minimised. This will have an impact on staffing levels. We are aware that several prisons have already been affected by this system. HMP Werrington has 18 staff self-isolating for 14 days including 13 prisoners who have been placed into RCU due to this system being implemented. Committees should consider the potential knock on effects of this track and trace system when engaging with SMTs to finalise RRMPs.

As restrictions ease and staff adhere to Recovery Regime Management Plans (RRMP) it is essential that all Prisons have in place an agreed RMP that will shape safe working practices once we return to a ‘new normal’ business as usual. The NEC are aware that many committees either do not have an agreed RMP in place or have one in place that is not fit for purpose. Committees are encouraged to secure additional facility time to ensure their RMP is reviewed and agreed so it is future proof. With immediate effect and as a minimum outcome, local committees should agree a Minimum Staffing Level (MSL) if they do not have one in place. Please access your Area NEC Representative for assistance if you require it when formulating both an RMP and MSLs.

We have raised concerns to HMPPS from branches that have highlighted the need for further PP schemes to cover the easing of restrictions during what will be the peak leave period. HMPPS are currently considering initiating further schemes. There are prisons that are reaching the end of their available Covid bonus scheme hours and are seeking access to another PP Scheme. The NEC is pushing the approval of further PP Bonus Schemes. The option of detached duty will be available with Public Health advice but is the very final step when all other support and incentive schemes have been exhausted.

Committees should note that the funding for the present COVID-19 PP Bonus Scheme does not come out of local budgets, but Governors have been reminded to utilise this scheme only when necessary.

Agreement with HM Treasury has not been reached to fund further schemes. Once a decision is made the membership will be updated. No decision has yet been made to increase the monthly bonus payment beyond June.

We are still waiting for the Government to decide if they are abiding by Pay Review Body Recommendations. An announcement on any pay award is now overdue.

Prisons have not changed their working practices in relation to Government guidelines on the reduction in the 2-metre rule for social distancing or the mandatory wearing of face masks. Public Health Authorities in the United Kingdom are currently reviewing procedures and advice for prisons. An announcement for prisons in England and Wales is due prior to 4th July.

In the first instance, if the employee can work from home they should. If not, the present expectation is that they can return to work from 1st August onwards (in England), providing they can comply with social distancing. Individual risk assessments will need to be completed to help identify what adjustments can be made to support staff with this. This is similar to the approach that is in use with those who are clinically vulnerable.

The Government will be writing to all individuals on the Shielded Patient List with updated information on shielding advice and this will be included when developing HR guidance.

Staff who are currently absent due to household members shielding should engage in a workplace risk assessment that allows them to return to work on August 1st, subject to all safety measures being satisfied. Shielding in Wales is due to be reviewed in mid-August.

The NEC will be holding further discussions to ensure staff are supported and the new guidance that will be issued clarifies all concerns.

The NEC are engaging with the employer so staff who have childcare issues during the school summer closures can be facilitated at work. Guidance is being worked on by HR Directors. We are aware that many members may struggle to balance work with looking after their children. We hope to have clear guidance soon.

The Scottish National Committee have announced that their Annual POA Conference has been cancelled due to COVID related issues.

Four new prisons are to be built across England over the next six years.
The first new jail will be built next to HMP Full Sutton, in East Yorkshire, and work is underway to identify locations for a further prison in the North-West of England and two in the South-East.
The operators of the prisons will be announced in due course. It is the Government’s intention that at least one prison will be operated by the public sector.
The 2023 planned closure of HMP Dartmoor was announced in 2013 and this remains the plan although HMPPS and Government are in discussion with the Duchy of Cornwall on whether there is a viable role for Dartmoor in the future.

Government announced in July 2017 that plans to redevelop HMPs Rochester and Hindley were put on hold for at least two years as part of a programme of forward-planning for the prison estate. There is now confirmation that there will be no redevelopment of HMPs Rochester or Hindley although refurbishment schemes are being considered at both to bring back some accommodation into use.

The Government have confirmed that there is no longer a plan to build a prison in Port Talbot.

We welcome the change in policy in awarding new build prisons to the public sector and await further details.

An additional £140 million has been secured to improve the Prison Estate:

£60 Million for temporary accommodation that will be more secure and predominantly sited in Cat C prisons. This will add an additional 1000 spaces.

£40 Million for maintenance including the demolition of Camp Hill on the Isle of Wight, improved lighting in prisons and car park security.

£10 Million for approved premises.

£13 Million to improve the Youth Custody Estate.

£20 Million to improve digital technology including Wi-Fi in prisons, virtual visits, in cell technology and remote Courts.

As we enter this critical stage in easing Prison regimes, I would remind you that we will do so cautiously and safely. We must ensure that the good work we have all done is not placed at risk by over enthusiasm and the desire to unlock unmanageable numbers of prisoners.

Please remain vigilant, keep supporting each other and work as safely as you can. The NEC remain available to support you and address your concerns.

Thank you for your continued hard work, commitment, and bravery.

For and on behalf of the National Executive Committee.


National Chair

Representing over 30,000 Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, the POA is the largest UK Union in this sector, able to trace its roots back more than 100 years.