23 March 2020

People held in detention settings are some of society’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged. COVID-19 does not discriminate, nor should our response to it. Just as the government’s response in the community seeks to prioritise protecting those most at risk, so should its response within detention settings.

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST

INQUEST has today published a new briefing on COVID-19: Protecting people in places of custody and detention. The briefing sets out our immediate concerns around the pandemic, focusing on our areas of expertise. We highlight the government’s human rights obligations and the need to protect people in places of custody and detention.


We recognise that this is a challenging time for everyone living and working in institutional settings. The impact of more restrictive regimes and practices, suspension of family visits and the anxiety around the virus will impact on people’s mental and physical health - many of whom are already extremely vulnerable.  

We also offer a stark warning - without immediate action to implement safety measures alongside efforts to reduce the number of people in some detention settings, the impact could be catastrophic, with many preventable deaths.

People detained in custodial and mental health settings must not be forgotten during this pandemic. You can help amplify this message by sharing our briefing with your MP via email or twitter.


People deprived of their liberty are totally dependent on others for their treatment, care, health and safety. Restricted detention regimes, overstretched staff, alongside suspension of family visits and contact, will lead to increased isolation and anxiety, with detrimental  impacts on physical and mental health.

At a time when external scrutiny is seriously restricted, Government and institutions must act decisively to protect the lives and human rights of those held in custodial and mental health settings, as well as the health, safety and welfare of all those who work in them. One way of achieving these aims is to reduce the number of people in many custody settings through a timely, effectively managed release programme.

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST

INQUEST will continue to advise and support bereaved families, at a time when essential post death investigations and inquests will be subject to disruption and delay. Alongside this, our team will be monitoring the situation as it unfolds and adapting our services and advice to families whose loved ones die in the coming days and months in custody and detention settings – from both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 related deaths.

The INQUEST team will not waiver from our commitment to standing shoulder to shoulder with families in the search for truth, justice and accountability following contentious state related deaths. We are committed to working in partnership with bereaved families, NGOs, and lawyers, to ensure there is transparency from government and the relevant agencies following any death in custody and detention. 

Read our initial response to COVID-19 here.