Government under more pressure to release prisoners as coronavirus spreads behind bars

Pressure is being put on ministers to release thousands more prisoners after it was revealed that more than 500 jail workers and inmates have contracted Covid-19.

Thursday, 23rd April 2020, 9:38 am
Updated Thursday, 23rd April 2020, 9:39 am

The Liberal Democrats, in a move backed by prison reform groups, are calling for the government to temporarily release prisoners deemed ‘low risk’ and who have short sentences left to serve.

It comes as the Ministry of Justice confirmed that 294 prisoners and 231 staff have now tested positive for coronavirus, while the chief inspector of prisoners, Peter Clarke, told MPs this week that 4,000 older inmates were still sharing cells.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

HMP Doncaster is one of a number of prisons in South Yorkshire

Read More

Read More
More than one in five coronavirus deaths in Sheffield happening at care homes, f...

At least 13 prisoners are known to have died after contracting coronavirus.

Ministers were forced to pause a release scheme in England and Wales last week after six convicts were mistakenly released due to an ‘administrative error’.

The Lib Dems are pushing for releases to ‘urgently’ continue.

The party's justice spokeswoman, Daisy Cooper MP, has written to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland demanding an ‘urgent end to overcrowding in prisons’.

In a letter co-signed by all 11 Lib Dem MPs, Ms Cooper said it was ‘not good enough’ that only 18 prisoners had been freed as of April 18, and referred to the Prison Governors Association's statement that official health advice was to release 15,000 inmates.

Only 14 out of the 70 imprisoned pregnant women the government committed to give early release to have been freed, Ms Cooper added.

The Howard League for Penal Reform said the opportunity to save the lives of those behind bars was ‘vanishing’.

Chief executive Frances Crook said: “The government has admitted that the number of people behind bars must be reduced significantly in order to protect people living and working in prison, as well as the wider public.

“Unfortunately, this has not - and cannot - be achieved by the measures currently in place.

“With coronavirus cases now confirmed in more than half of prisons across England and Wales, the window of opportunity to save lives is vanishing.

“Ministers must rise to the challenge and move further and faster, to avert a public health catastrophe.”