Up to 4,000 low-risk offenders to be temporarily released from prison in coronavirus fight
PUBLISHED: 09:47 05 April 2020 | UPDATED: 11:15 05 April 2020
Up to 4,000 prisoners in England and Wales are to be temporarily released from jail in an effort to try and control the spread of coronavirus.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said the selected low-risk offenders will be electronically tagged and temporarily released on licence in stages, although they 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, from becoming infected.
The move comes as 88 prisoners and 15 staff have tested positive for Covid-19.
No high-risk criminals - such as those who have been convicted of violent or sexual offences, anyone who is a national security concern or a danger to children - will be considered for release.
Prisoners who have not served at least half their custodial term will also not be among those who are released.
The MoJ also said no offender convicted of Covid-19-related offences, including coughing at emergency workers or stealing personal protective equipment, will be eligible.
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.
“All prisoners will face a tough risk assessment and must comply with strict conditions, including an electronic tag, while they are closely monitored.
“Those that do not will be recalled to prison.”
The MoJ also said no prisoner would be released if they have symptoms of coronavirus or without housing and health support being in place.
The legislation for these measures to take place is set to be laid on Monday.
The Prison Officers’ Association believes it will relieve the pressure on frontline staff and the crowded prison system which “could be the difference between life and death during this pandemic,” according to general secretary Steve Gillan.
National chairman Mark Fairhurst said: “It is essential that those being released pose no risk to the public and get tested for Covid-19 prior to release.
“Victims of crime should not be forgotten when such decisions are made and a balance must be struck between the safety of staff and the general public”.