Nearly half of inmates at Welsh prison – the UK’s largest – refused Covid jab, official figures show
Jez Hemming, local democracy reporter
The latest official figures show almost half of the population of the UK’s largest jail, near Wrexham, has snubbed a Covid vaccination – but the Ministry of Justice disagrees.
Up to Tuesday 1,816 prisoners at HMP Berwyn had been offered the jab but only 52% (946 men) had received a first dose.
Fewer than 30% (532) have been fully vaccinated so far, according to statistics handed out by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.
Yet the Ministry of Justice contests the numbers, saying more people have received a vaccine, but has so far failed to provide any figures of its own.
It comes after a report in Inside Time magazine revealed up to two-thirds of prisoners in some UK jails had refused a jab.
In early June it was reported there was a refusal rate of 66% at the detention facility which has improved, leading to hopes more inmates will become inoculated against Covid in time.
Gill Harris, Betsi’s executive director of nursing and midwifery, said: “All 1,816 men at HMP Berwyn have been offered the Covid-19 vaccine and information about the benefits of vaccination is being shared with them on a regular basis.
“As of (Tuesday), 946 men (52 per cent) had received a first dose, while 532 (29 per cent) had been fully vaccinated.
“We continue to encourage those who have yet to take up the offer of vaccination to come forward, in order to give themselves the very best protection from Covid-19.”
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) claimed she had received “confirmation” the number of prisoners who had received a vaccine shot was higher.
The department has not responded to a request for its own record of vaccination rates at the jail.
A spokesman for Betsi Cadwaldr UHB confirmed the figures it had originally given were a correct record of vaccination at the facility.
The MoJ spokeswoman said the prison has a “protective isolation unit for prisoners who present as symptomatic and those who have tested positive”.
There is also a prisoner and staff testing strategy in place with all new arrivals receiving PCR tests, while those due to be released are offered lateral flow tests.
A petition to Welsh Government, complaining about conditions at the prison was rejected in February this year because it doesn’t have jurisdiction over justice.
It claimed prisoners were being locked in cells for up to “24 hours a day” and there were “days where they are not fed due to mass number of staff being absent with Covid-19 or are isolating”.
The Ministry of Justice said it had brought in a number of changes across the prison estate in the interests of prisoners.
It said it had brought out “secure video calling” so inmates could keep in touch with their families and provided “more than 1,500 mobile phone handsets and extra phone credit”.
Prisoners with mental health issues had been supported by special teams of “key worker officers” providing one-to-one support for between five and six prisoners.
It added it had “moved vital rehabilitation work – such as education, work opportunities, and exercise – in-cell where possible”.
HMP Berwyn, dubbed a “superprison because of its size”, is Britain’s largest and capable of housing 2,100 category C criminals.
The £250m flagship jail has been beset by issues since it opened almost four-and-half years ago and has never reached full capacity.