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“I didn’t think that my dad was at risk of dying when he was sent to prison” – The impact of coronavirus on people in prison

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If you’ve got a parent or family member who is over 70 then you’ll no doubt have been concerned to learn that this put’s them at greater risk of contracting coronovirus. But what if they were in prison where they can’t self-isolate and you can’t check that they’re looking after themselves properly; that’s the situation that Janette finds herself in.

Like many people in the UK, I totally support the government’s decision to introduce the lock-down measures as a way of reducing the spread of coronavirus. As I work in a hotel I can’t work from home but I’ve been furloughed and I’m currently getting 80% of my pay so, in may ways I’m one of the lucky ones. Except my life is being affected by coronavirus and I can’t tell anybody.

In 2017 my dad received an 8 year prison sentence. It was a shock to the whole family and I don’t condone what he did but, he’s still my dad. Eight years seemed such a long time for a first offence but little did I realise at that time that he was actually being given a death sentence.

I’ve been visiting dad twice a month since he was convicted, during which time I’ve seen his health deteriorate. The lack of regular exercise, a good nights sleep and a diet that’s short on fresh fruit and vegetables have all taken their toll on the fit 72 year old that entered prison.

I last saw my dad in mid-March. We talked about the news and in particular, coronavirus, and although he tried to put on a brave face, I could tell that he was very worried about the risk of catching the virus. A few days later when I tried to book my next visit, I received an email stating that all visits had been suspended in an attempt to reduce the risk of infection. To start with I foolishly thought that this would be a short term measure but 6 weeks on and I can see no end to it.

When I saw on the news that the government were looking to release upto 4,000 prisoners on an early release scheme, I dared to dream that my dad would be one of them. I reasoned that if he were at home he would be shielding due to his age. However, even though he wasn’t convicted of a sexual or violent offence, he still has another year in prison which means that he doesn’t meet the criteria.

Last weekend I heard that 6 prisoners had been released ‘in error’ and therefore the scheme was being stopped.

In letters I’ve received from my dad he tells me that he’s now locked in his cell for 23 hours a day, there’s no education, no gym, no library and very little hope.

Ten prisoners have died so far but without the ability to self-isolate this will surely increase. I know the general public have little sympathy for men like my dad but he’s an old man now and no risk to anybody. So please, put my dad on tag for 24 hours a day if needed, but let him and people like him stay safe.

By Janette  (name changed to protect identity)

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