How we're supporting people in prison during the COVID-19 lockdown

The coronavirus lockdown has meant our prison team have been unable to go into prisons to support hepatitis C testing and treatment as usual. Despite this Lee Devereux, our Prison Peer Coordinator for the South West, has still been busy offering support to residents and the volunteer peers who support our work.

“All of our South West prisons went into command mode towards the end of March which meant only essential activities and movement was permitted. The residents are basically only allowed out of their cells for brief exercise and phone calls if there are no in-cell phones.

“Our peer educator Simon has been using the 'email a prisoner' system to stay in touch with our active peers (prison residents who have volunteered to help raise awareness around hepatitis C in prison) whilst emailing staff to see where we can offer support. We made sure our peers and colleagues were aware that our prison helpline hours have been extended to 8am - 8pm and posted out leaflets that prison staff kindly agreed to make visible and post under doors.

“After getting some replies from our peers we were asked if we could provide them with stuff to do in-cell as they were 'bored out of their brains'.

“I came up with a more advanced BBV training package that could be completed in a cell with a few exercises and a competency test at the end so that we could provide certificates. We also got some great feedback from the peers regarding how we could improve the training which we have implemented and now the training is being rolled out nationally. Behind the scenes I've been working with a small working group to update the in-person peer mentor training so that we are ready to hit the ground running once the doors start to open again.

“We have also sent out some of the BBV newsletters that were developed by The Hepatitis C Trust’s London Prison Team which have been well received and there is also a drawing competition for the residents to have a go at winning some private spending money.

“We are keeping in email contact with our peers and their responses are mainly ones of gratitude that they haven't been left behind even though we can't be in there to physically support them.

“Just today we received an email from a staff member at one prison with a message from one of the peers to say he has spoken to over 100 new reception prisoners that have requested a hepatitis C test as soon as the service is back up and running. We’re so appreciative of our volunteer peers for helping to keep the service running under such restrictive and stressful circumstances.

“As a team we have kept surprisingly busy given how locked down prisons are and we have also been able to support some of the community work in our local areas by delivering harm minimisation posters. We can't wait to get back behind the door to do what we do best.”

To find out more about our work in prisons, read our report on our peer support services.