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Prisoners could be freed from jails to ease coronavirus pressure

Prisoners could be freed from jails in England and Wales to ease pressures caused by coronavirus as up to 10% of staff are off sick or self-isolating

  • Prisoners could be released to ease the pressure caused by the coronavirus 
  • Chief of Prison and Probation service revealed 13 inmates have tested positive 
  • The Justice Secretary did not rule out considering releasing prisoners
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Prisons could release some offenders to ease the pressure caused by coronavirus, a Cabinet minister has said.  

Jails in England and Wales were put on immediate lockdown last night with all visits cancelled as it emerged thousands of staff were in self-isolation.

Jo Farrar, chief executive of the Prison and Probation Service, told the Commons Justice Committee that 13 inmates had tested positive for coronavirus with confirmed cases in nine prisons at present – although others were suspected to have been affected.

She said overall around 4,300 prison and probation staff were self-isolating at the moment. Some 3,500 were prison staff – representing about 10% of the workforce.

Around 50,000 protective masks have been delivered for staff to use and a ban on bringing hand sanitiser into the prison had been lifted.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland did not rule out considering releasing prisoners when asked if this could help ease the pressure on prisons.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland did not rule out considering releasing prisoners when asked if this could help ease the pressure on prisons

Mr Buckland told the committee: ‘I have to bring that as part of the equation.’

But he said that risk would ‘have to be considered’ as well as looking at options such as making use of release on temporary licence, bail accommodation and working out ‘what to do’ with some 9,000 prisoners currently on remand.

He explained that ‘quite a proportion of the estate where there is crowding – that presents a real challenge’ and many inmates were vulnerable or had underlying health conditions.’ 

There are hopes to roll out tests for Covid-19 to staff in self-isolation, MPs sitting on the committee were told.

The news comes after concerns were raised about conditions at HMP Holme House in County Durham.

A source said there was a lack of protective equipment for staff as well as a shortage of soap and cleaning products.

Lockdown measures inside jails will include:

  • A ban on social visits but efforts made to make more phones available to inmates
  • Prisoners generally being locked up but allowed to access showers, phones and exercise – with social-distancing restrictions in place. Those who carry out kitchen, cleaning and laundry work will be allowed to continue.
  • Gyms have been closed.
  • Activities such as education suspended
  • Prisoners are also not being brought to court for hearings, it is understood


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