Covid outbreak at Dorset prison affects more than 120 inmates

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The Verne IRCImage source, Google
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HMP The Verne has a high proportion of elderly inmates

A Dorset prison currently has more than 120 inmates with Covid-19, a watchdog has said.

Some prison officers at HMP The Verne, on Portland, are also self-isolating, the jail's Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) added.

It said the staff shortages had caused "difficult" conditions, although some officers were working double shifts to cover colleagues.

The Ministry of Justice said it had taken precautionary measures.

The Verne remained Covid-free during the first lockdown by isolating new arrivals and restricting activities, the IMB said.

'95 outbreak sites'

However, it said the current "serious" outbreak had caused concern for the prison's high proportion of elderly inmates with general health issues and the staff who care for them.

IMB chairman Chris Miller said: "Staff in care homes in the community have been a priority group for vaccination whereas prison officers, who in many cases are doing exactly the same job, have not received vaccines.

"It's something we have taken up with government."

The IMB said the prison was still managing to serve three meals a day despite the staffing issues although inmates' exercise had been curtailed.

The union for prison officers, the POA, said 95 of the UK's 117 jails were currently classed as coronavirus "outbreak sites", where at least two inmates or staff were Covid-positive.

The Ministry of Justice said: "Our priority is to limit the spread of the virus and protect the lives of those who live and work in our prisons.

"We have taken precautionary measures at Verne, in line with public health guidance."

HMP The Verne is a prison exclusively for sex offenders and has a capacity of 580 inmates.

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