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84-Year-Old Man is First UK Prisoner to Die of COVID-19 - Report

The president of the Prison Governors Association recently warned that prisoners will start dying from COVID-19 due to the overcrowded and subpar conditions throughout the prison estate in England and Wales. Meanwhile WHO Europe released new guidelines which warn that prisoners are especially vulnerable to the illness.

An 84-year old man has reportedly died from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) at HMP Littlehey, making him the first British prisoner to die from the illness in England and Wales.

​According to an unannounced inspection of the HMP Littlehey in 2019, "nearly all of the population were convicted of sexual offences, and about 80% were serving long sentences", with nearly half over the age of 50. 

The man's death occurred less than 24 hours after Judge Vanessa Baraitser refused the emergency bail application made on behalf of imprisoned publisher and journalist Julian Assange.

​Assange's lawyers argued that prisons are especially at risk of an outbreak of the illness and ill-equipped to handle mass infection and that Assange is more vulnerable to developing a more severe form of the illness if he was infected. Nearly 200 doctors have called for the WikiLeaks to be released due to his vulnerable state and the increased threat of COVID-19. WikiLeaks's official Don’t Extradite Assange campaign has also launched a petition calling for the award-wining journalist, and all other vulnerable prisoners, to be released due to the COVID-19 threat.

On 24 March HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) announced a closure of all prison facilities in England and Wales to visitors after four separate COVID-19 cases were confirmed among prisoners in four separate prisons.

By 1pm the next day the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) confirmed that:

  • 19 prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19 across 10 prisons.
  • 4 prison staff have tested positive for COVID-19 across 4 prisons.
  • 3 Prisoner Escort and Custody Services (PECS) staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

The MoJ says that they will not be breaking down the exact figures of COVID-19 cases per prison, though the exact reason for that decision remains unclear.

World Health Organization Europe recently released guidelines for how states should manage their prisons and detention facilities, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that they are especially vulnerable to the illness as well as human rights violations more generally.

"To effectively tackle a COVID-19 disease outbreak in prisons, state authorities need to establish an up-to-date coordination system that brings together health and justice sectors, keeps prison staff well-informed, and guarantees that all human rights in the facilities are respected", a statement from the organisation said.
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