#FreeThemAll4PublicHealth Day 5: Public Health England

31 March 2020: Day 5 of the #FreeThemAll4PublicHealth Week of Action

Even without a pandemic, prisons  are by their very nature a public health crisis. Covid-19 has highlighted this: Overcrowded, unhygienic conditions in prisons and detention centres alongside the compromised immunity of many of those inside after years of neglect means the virus is spreading rapidly and that it will have especially lethal consequences. The existing failings and inhumane conditions within prisons are exacerbated by Covid-19. The prison system cannot cope with this current outbreak, despite claims that they are “existing, well-developed policies and procedures in place to manage outbreaks and infectious diseases”. ‪The reports we hear from inside directly contradict this. People are locked in their cells up to 24 hours a day, with no visits allowed and barely any chance to make calls to family. Prison guards still circulate the virus freely. This is a public health risk to people inside!‬ Full release must be implemented urgently. People must be guaranteed safe places where they can self-isolate upon release. Using  a risk-based model to decide who can or should be released would leave the most marginalised to die in prison from this pandemic‬. Covid-19 is changing definite & indefinite sentences alike into death sentences. Those on remand may never make it to trial. The failings of the “criminal” punishment  system, even by its own logic, are stark. People can social distance & survive. If the release of all people in prison is staggered, we demand that the first to be released be those most vulnerable to COVID-19, such as the elderly, who are pregnant, substance users and those who have pre-existing health conditions/compromised immune systems. Whilst we actively decarcerate, we demand that people inside prison be treated humanely, and that their healthcare needs are met. Join our week of action and make these demands heard. Today, we target  the Health and Justice team of Public Health England and Scotland, and the Department of Health and Social Care.

Who to contact

Dr Éamonn O’Moore, national lead health and justice team, Public Health England

Call: 020 7654 8082 Tweet: @ejomoore Email: eamonn.o’moore@phe.gov.uk

Health & Justice team PHE

Email: health-justice@phe.gov.uk

Edward Argar MP, Minister of Health, DHSC (Department of Health and Social Care)

Call: 020 7219 8140 Tweet: @DHSCgovuk Email: Edward.argar.mp@parliament.uk

Sample Phone Script

I am calling to demand  immediate release of all those in prison and detention centres as the only possible way to mitigate the potentially deadly impacts of COVID-19 public health crisis. Whilst the release of thirty five pregnant people is a start, it is not sufficient to address this crisis, and plans must be made to release the 85 000 other people incarcerated in the UK. People inside prisons are facing dire and inhumane conditions – no adequate sanitation and hygiene facilities, removal of visitation rights, and in many cases a full lock-down. Removing peoples’ only support systems during a time of global crisis and not providing them with any way to protect themselves from a pandemic is state violence, and will become state-sanctioned murder unless immediate action is taken. Release them all now!”

Sample tweets

@[target] why don’t you prioritize the lives of those trapped inside with no way to protect themselves from #covid19? Deaths, such as those which have already happened at HMP Manchester & HMP Littlehey are on your hands #FreeThemAll4PublicHealth @[target] keeping people inside prisons during a global pandemic is a public health disgrace – people in prisons can’t social distance and are not provided with hygiene materials to protect themselves from Covid-19. Everyone must be released now! #FreeThemAll4PublicHealth

Draft Email

“I am writing to express my deep concern about the health and safety of people inside prisons across the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic. Numerous public health journals, grassroots groups, and activists have outlined why prisons are the worst possible places to prevent the spread of disease. Incarcerated people cannot self-isolate and prison regulations make hygiene and health practices next to impossible. The only reasonable comprehensive COVID-19 prison mitigation strategy is the immediate release of all people in prison and detention. Prisons are by their very nature unsafe and unhealthy spaces in which access to health care is severely limited. Incarcerated people face systematic medical neglect,abuse and incredible isolation everyday. This maltreatment will only increase during the COVID-19 pandemic. UK prisons have alarmingly ideal conditions for the rapid spread of disease. As the Health Affairs journal states, “Prisons push people into the paths of epidemics”. Simply put, prisons cannot cope with a COVID-19 outbreak. There are approximately 85,000 people in prisons across the UK. Within this there is a significant population of ageing people in prison for which the virus will likely be life threatening. Any death that results from COVID-19 spreading through the prison population is state sanctioned murder. People in prison are not disposable and the ‘punishment for their crimes’ cannot be death. We are in the midst of a public health crisis, people in prison are also members of the general public and are therefore included in this public health crisis and must not be forgotten. The only action to be taken that will adequately stop what will become a crisis of mass-death, is the immediate release of all people incarcerated and in detention across the UK. I stand with those on the inside in solidarity and am urging you to act now to prevent unnecessary suffering and death. Their blood will be on your hands. I demand first and foremost the release of all people in prison and detention. Specifically:

  • We demand that all people currently on ROTL are not brought back into prison.
  • If release of all people in prison is staggered, we demand that the first to be released be those most vulnerable to COVID-19, such as the elderly, those who are pregnant, substance users and those who have pre-existing health conditions/compromised immune systems.


  • We demand that any people in prison be taken to hospital immediately upon exhibiting symptoms.
  • We demand that free soap, masks, and necessary hygiene facilities be available to all incarcerated people.
  • We demand that all prison officers and medical staff be temperature checked before entering prison facilities, and both are required to wear gloves and face masks when interacting with people who are imprisoned.
  • We demand free COVID-19 testing for anyone in prison that requests it.
  • We demand that people in prison be given access to healthy and nutritious food


Day 1 of 7: The Ministry of ‘Justice’

Day 2 of 7: Your local prison and HMPPS

Day 3 of 7: Target Local MPs

Day 4 of 7: No Kids in Prison

Day 5 of 7: Public Health England

Day 6 of 7: Minister of State for Prisons & Probation

Day 7 of 7: Secretary of State for Justice

Supporting People Inside During Covid-19