Prisoners may be released early in bid to stop coronavirus spread behind bars

Prisoners could be released from prison to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

On Sunday, Prison Officers Association general secretary Steve Gillan described the coronavirus situation in prisons as "unprecedented" for both prisoners and staff.

Speaking on Sky News's Sophy Ridge he said: "This is one of the most critical issues going and I'm pleased to say we're working constructively with government and with employers."

In response to the international coronavirus outbreak, Iran has freed tens of thousands of prisoners to prevent the spread of the illness behind bars.

When asked if releasing some prisoners was in the contingency plan, Mr Gillan said: "Not as yet, but previous governments have done what was called an executive release of prisoners, that may come in the future to free up spaces in prisons."

He explained this could be in the form of temporary release or the release of prisoners towards the end of their sentences.

"The secretary of state has the powers to look at low-risk category prisoners and just release them as that executive release," he added.

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Last month Staffordshire Police Northern Area Custody Facility at Etruria went into lockdown amid fears a prisoner had coronavirus.

Although she later tested negative, the isolation of two police constables and one PCSO gave a hint of how vulnerable the prison sector is to the virus.

Mr Gillan said a limited amount of single-capacity cells in the prison system would cause problems, while 75 prisoners are currently in isolation.

He added that no one in the prison system had tested positive for the disease as far as he was aware.

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Some prisoner have been isolated in single-cell accommodation however.

Mr Gillan said prisons would need more resources to accommodate officer overtime and sickness.

Prisons minister Lucy Frazer previously said prison staff were working closely with the Department of Health and the NHS to "manage challenges" and urged anyone with symptoms of Covid-19 to avoid visiting a relative behind bars.

In an announcement on Thursday, Ms Frazer said the safety of staff, inmates and visitors was "paramount", adding measures being taken included putting up posters to promote good hygiene and stocking up on soap and cleaning materials.

She said: "Prisons have existing, well-developed policies and procedures in place to manage outbreaks of infectious diseases.

"This means prisons are well-prepared to take immediate action whenever cases or suspected cases are identified, including isolating individuals where necessary."

Earlier this month protests were staged outside Italian prisons over measures intended to control the virus's spread, including a ban on family visits.

Inmates in four prisons revolted over new rules introduced to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

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