Coronavirus: (UK) Low-risk prisoners set for early release

On 4th April, Danny Shaw reports in BBC news

Up to 4,000 prisoners in England and Wales are to be released in an effort to control the spread of coronavirus, the Ministry of Justice has said.

Inmates with two months or less still to serve will be released on temporary licence in stages. 

The selected low-risk offenders will be electronically tagged and can be recalled at the first sign of concern.

It is seen as a way to avoid thousands of prisoners – many of whom share cells – becoming infected. 

Across 29 jails, 88 prisoners have tested positive for the virus with a further 1,200 believed to be self-isolating.

Sex offenders and those convicted of violent or sexual offences, as well as anyone who is a national security concern or a danger to children, will not be considered for release, the Prison Service said.

No inmate convicted of Covid-19-related offences – including coughing at emergency workers or stealing personal protective equipment – will be eligible either, said the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Robert Buckland QC said: “This government is committed to ensuring that justice is served to those who break the law.

“But this is an unprecedented situation because if coronavirus takes hold in our prisons, the NHS could be overwhelmed and more lives put at risk.” 

The MoJ also said no prisoners with symptoms of coronavirus would be released, nor would those who do not have housing and health support in place.

Mr Buckland previously announced that pregnant inmates could be granted temporary release to protect them and their unborn children from coronavirus.

Mothers behind bars with their children who pass the same checks could also be released, he said.

The legislation for the measures is expected to be put in place on Monday.

. . .

The prisons union welcomed the news but raised concerns over staff pressure.

About 8,000 prison staff have been absent due to issues related to Covid-19, around a quarter of the total workforce.

Ian Lawrence, general secretary of trade union Napo, said its members working in the National Probation Service and in community rehabilitation companies were “already over-stretched”. 

“Probation providers must work to ensure this new cohort can be supervised safely and not cause additional operational pressure and stress to the workforce,” he added.

In Northern Ireland, up to 200 offenders are being let out early and the Scottish government is considering similar measures.

France has also announced plans to release 5,000 prisoners early, along with 3,500 in the US state of California.

Australia, Germany, and Canada have already given the go-ahead for the early release of prisoners.

Read articles in
BBC News

And some earlier releases
The Daily and Sunday Express 31 March

Ministry of Justice Report for Early Release in Ireland 30 March