DWP is preparing for a phased return for Prison Work Coaches in 42 prisons in England and Wales after national lockdown restrictions are lifted in early December. Prison Work Coaches were withdrawn from prisons at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic on safety grounds as it was unclear what the impact of the pandemic would be
PCS met with DWP managers on 17 November 2020 and discussed the proposal and made it clear that we had genuine safety concerns about Prison Work Coaches returning to work in prisons at a time infection rates were so high. We highlighted the situation at HMP Barlinnie in Glasgow, were it was reported last week that 65 members of staff had tested positive for COVID-19 with 400 prisoners self-isolating. In response management stated they have received an assurance from Ministry of Justice (MoJ) that prisons in England and Wales are COVID secure. MoJ have reported that the number of infection cases in custody have been much lower than anticipated.
PCS further highlighted that feedback from both PCS in MoJ and other Trade Unions that have members in prisons, paints a very different picture and we are not convinced the environment is as COVID secure as is being portrayed.
Health and Safety
DWP have advised that they have been working with MoJ and DWP Health and Safety colleagues to review what a return to prison working might look like for our Work Coaches and how that can be achieved. Furthermore, DWP Health and Safety are having the same conversations in Scotland. DWP have been assured by MoJ of their COVID-19 safe working arrangements and Exceptional Delivery Model arrangements for Prison Work Coaches and other partner organisations. DWP intend to use a phased approach to returning, initially to those prisons in England and Wales which will have in-cell telephone capability. This will allow partner organisations to contact prisoners in their cells to conduct essential pre-release activity, whilst avoiding unnecessary face-to-face contact.
Feedback from Prison Work Coach members
A further meeting with DWP on the issue of Prison Work Coaches returning to prisons will take place next month. In the meantime, PCS are seeking the views of our Prison Work Coach members in order that we can relay them, on a confidential basis, to senior DWP management at our next meeting on this issue. PCS Prison Work Coach members are invited to provide their views or concerns to email@example.com by no later than Friday 4 December 2020.
We will use the views of our members in our ongoing discussions with the employer.