Legal sector workers stand in solidarity with prisoners

UVW protesters carrying banner

In the last two issues of FRFI we have highlighted the appalling attitude of the Prison Officers’ Association union during the Covid pandemic. In contrast, the Legal Sector Workers United (LSWU), a branch of the radical union United Voices of the World, has issued the following strong statement in solidarity with prisoners.*

LSWU members working in criminal and prison law have witnessed firsthand the Covid-19 disaster inflicted upon the prison system. Alongside our firm support for actions taken by incarcerated people themselves to highlight their conditions, we make the following demands:

  • That the Covid End of Custody Temporary Release scheme which was paused in August 2020 is urgently restarted and extended.
  • That the use of Compassionate Temporary Release is expanded.
  • That there is adequate investment in video-links for legal advice to be facilitated remotely, where appropriate, during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • That those held on remand pending trial are released to the community, wherever possible. 

The prison system has become a hub for the transmission of Covid-19, with the devastating impacts only worsened in the context of ongoing concerns of privatisation and mismanagement. Much like the NHS, prisons are becoming overwhelmed by the virus. As a result, prisoners and prison workers are falling ill and dying. Further, these failings have a disproportionate effect on prisoners from Black, Brown and Racialised Groups, as well as those with underlying medical conditions.

Prisons have only recently become designated as ‘Covid Outbreak Sites’, despite having been fertile territory for the virus for many months. Legal workers are no longer able to effectively contact their clients to take instructions. Securing ‘justice’ in any meaningful sense is entirely compromised. Most prisons have refused or significantly reduced face-to-face visits since around April 2020 and many prisons are now struggling to provide even remote visits. 

56 years after the abolition of the death penalty, incarcerated people are being subjected to a virtual death sentence. Around 11,388 of those in prison are simply being held on remand before trial, despite ongoing delays in the existing system. Deaths due to Covid-19 have risen by 50% in prisons last month.  Most prisoners are now confined to their cells for 23 hours a day, with limited time to contact friends, family or legal advisors. There has been inadequate consideration of the significant negative impacts to mental health.

Having released just 275 prisoners out of a population of around 80,000 under the two different Covid-19 early release schemes for England and Wales, in August 2020, the government announced that the scheme would be ‘paused’. LSWU has been inundated with horrific stories of prisoners facing extreme hardship as a result of the pandemic. Those incarcerated are humans with families, friends and lives. As legal workers, we call for urgent intervention to save the lives of those incarcerated, and curb the devastating physical and psychological harm being wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The situation is desperate; we continue to stand firm with those incarcerated and will support any actions taken to highlight their situation. 

Legal Sector Workers United

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 280 February/March 2021


 *The statement has been shortened here for reasons of space. The full version is available at: www.uvwunion.org.uk