During this incredibly challenging time, businesses, charities and social enterprises are trying to find ways to support those who are being most affected by the virus and the actions that are required to defeat it.
Although senior members of Government are going to great lengths to spread the message, “we are all in this together” the impact being felt by the social distancing measures and the need to self-isolate where necessary, are inevitably having a much greater effect on the more vulnerable members of our society.
The burden of abiding by the critical instruction Stay Home – Protect the NHS – Save lives is not being carried equally by all.
In cities where many live in flats with no gardens, the instruction to only go out to exercise once a day will have a much higher consequence to physical and mental health, than that of a family fortunate enough to live in the suburbs or the country with a garden and long walks on your doorstep.
The ability for most of us to use technology that is readily available on our smartphones or tablets such as WhatsApp, Zoom or Houseparty to stay in touch with our friends, family and loved ones is a godsend as we feel so much better when we stay connected.
One place where neither gardens, long walks or video chats are not an option is in our prisons where over 80,000 men and women in England and Wales currently find themselves.
As the Coronavirus means higher numbers of Prison Officers and more staff have to self-isolate, the regimes inside these institutions are inevitably getting more restrictive and, in many prisons, mean inmates are locked up 23 hours a day.
Obviously, the ability for both prisoners and prison staff to observe social distancing rules is considerably more difficult as the cells, the landings and communal areas are not suited for so many people to stay 2 meters apart.
There are reports of PPE being in desperately short supply as priority is given to the NHS.
It is no surprise then, that there is estimated between 6000 – 8000 prison officers off work nationally either sick or self-isolating.*
TOM MERRICKS, FROM THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE WORKERS UNION SAID OF THE PRISON STAFF:
“They are still in the vicinity of prisoners even if they come out in smaller groups. Social distancing, let’s face it, is not going to be easy. They might be let out five or ten at a time, but they will all be coming into contact with prisoners during the course of the day. A lot of prisoners are sensible about it, but if you imagine a prison wing, there’s not a lot of room to swing a cat. There are issues in some prisons where they have run out of gloves, and they are having to touch railings and unlock doors. There’s no getting away from that. We have got these 85,000 people, and they need to be looked after.”
He went on to say in doing their jobs and trying to protect prisoners in their charge “Prison officers are putting themselves in danger on a daily basis.”
These issues are now manifesting in the most tragic way as two staff support workers from Pentonville Prison in London have now died after suffering Coronavirus symptoms according to the Prison Officers Association, in addition to three prisoners in different prisons.
** While it is not known whether either of the support workers had any pre-existing medical conditions, all three prisoners were confirmed to have had them.
In the midst of all these challenges, organisations such as the social enterprise Beyond Recovery based in the Midlands are finding ways to support prisoners at a time when direct contact is not possible.
Beyond Recovery run mental health programmes in several prisons including HMP Onley and HMP Nottingham, supporting the hardest to reach in both prison and the community.
Jacqueline Hollows who founded and leads the Community Interest Company explains the groundbreaking and impactful work that they carry out “Since I started Beyond Recovery in 2015, our small but dedicated team of facilitators and volunteers have run numerous programmes that have had a significant transformational impact on hundreds of people inside and outside of prison.”
“The work that Beyond Recovery does, points towards the fact that mental health is innate within everyone, so it does not deal with the symptoms, it goes to the very source of the problem, a misunderstanding of how we experience life as human beings.”
“By understanding the fact that mental health is within every one of us and does not lie outside of us, our feeling of wellbeing naturally increases.
This, in turn, leads to and is evidenced by reductions in anger, violence, self-harm, anxiety and self-medication and in our experience a consequential reduction in reoffending.”
“The outcome is offenders look beyond mere survival and existence, and instead to move forward with hope, resilience and purpose in life. The impact of this work creates far-reaching ripple effects in relationships, and when released in careers, business opportunities as well as complete Recovery from previously intractable problems.”
“The challenge we have faced since the Coronavirus outbreak is that we have been unable to carry out our work in the normal way, going into the prison and working with the guys in groups or one to one.”
“But as they need our help and support more than ever, we are looking at developing new ways of doing this.”
“We have started by getting everybody involved with Beyond Recovery, to write letters to those men who have taken part in our programs and have already been impacted so we can stay connected.”
“We have put together activity materials that we have called “Beyond Packs” that can benefit all the prisoners by giving them something to do while they are locked up for longer than usual, that will remind them of all the key principles of the work we do with them.
They have proved to be really popular being taken up by several prisons in the UK and even reaching as far as New Zealand.”
“That is just the start and we are now exploring other ways we can reach them such as the prison TV or radio channels or running digital courses that would work within the prison regime.”
“Just because these men and women have committed a crime which has resulted in them being there, doesn’t mean we should not make their wellbeing and rehabilitation a priority and ensure they are not forgotten at this time.”
“When we get the opportunity, we also look to work with the prison staff supporting their wellbeing as they do such an amazing job normally let alone at these challenging times.”
At a time when everyone in the UK is being asked to disrupt their lives in a way that has not been seen since the Second World War, it is so important that we recognise these changes are having a profound impact to the physical and mental health to so many vulnerable men, women and children on the fringes of our society.
The unity being showed throughout all our communities by so many people is so encouraging and why organisations such as Beyond Recovery are playing such a vital role.
References * (Hulldailymail.co.uk 4/4/20) ** (Dailymail.co.uk 4/4/20)