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Covid-19: Why early release of prisoners is essential

Averting disaster in UK prisons

We are living in interesting times. The worldwide Covid-19 pandemic is an extraordinary situation and calls for extraordinary measures if we are to avoid catastrophic loss of life.

Those societies who have succeeded best at limiting the effects of the Coronavirus are those which have acted ahead of the curve – proactively, not reactively.

The UK’s prisons are a ticking timebomb for such a disaster. Staff numbers are being reduced, while numbers of inmates are rising. 

cover-19 keep distance

While the rest of us are being told to keep our distance from other people, prisons are becoming even more overcrowded than they are at present, which is already too overcrowded. Prisoners who, for various reasons, were assigned a single cell – are being told they must share.

In many or most prisons, movement has been severely restricted or prisoners confined to their cells. Visits have now been cancelled. Frustration and anger will be increasing. Coronavirus-related prison riots are on the increase The simple, obvious and necessary measure to try to avert a disaster is to enable, as soon as practically possible – and I’m talking days, not weeks or months down the line –  the early release of prisoners who have short sentences or those with longer sentences who are within 6 months of release.

Some prisoners will already have obtained permission for Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) and it is a relatively small step to allow their early release.

At present, there are only a few prisons in the UK with recorded cases of prisoners with CV-19 but this will change at an acceleration rate. Releasing prisoners now, while this is the case is relatively easy. It will be far harder once the virus takes hold and affected prisoners have to be isolated for 14 days.

Health experts, journalists and lawyers are recommending this course of action.

  • The Financial Times reported:
    “Medical experts say the only way to stymie an outbreak is to implement social distancing now by releasing prisoners to decrease their density in jails.”

  • Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director in Europe: 
    “Only the boldest of actions will slow and stop the spread of disease. We must not leave anyone behind in this fight.”

  • Dr. Josiah Rich, a Brown University professor of medicine and epidemiology who has provided care for prisoners for years, said that:
    “unless these measures are taken promptly, outbreaks of the coronavirus in prisons would spread rapidly, straining prison and hospital infrastructure.”

  • Matthew Scott (Barrister and award-winning blogger) wrote in response to the announcement of prison visits being stopped:
    “For good reason, but stopping visits will increase tension in prisons. Crazy not to release everyone on short sentences and those near end of longer sentences to give prisons some chance of coping.”

  • Eric Allison writing in the Guardian: 
    “Coronavirus is a disaster for UK prisons. Releasing the harmless now will save lives”

  • etc…

So the government will have no excuses for inaction if they delay and the situation in our prisons deteriorates. I therefore urge the government to act now and take the initiative on this matter before it’s too late. Please start releasing ‘no risk’ prisoners today.

1 thought on “Covid-19: Why early release of prisoners is essential”

  1. Admittedly I feel more angry and frustrated because my own friend in prison is innocent (estimates are some 15% of prisoners are) but in any case, her sentence is up in July, so it makes no sense to hold her in prison any longer, at risk of becoming infected and not able to rejoin her loved ones. This is a terrible time for all of us but far worse in prisons where the risks will be heightened.

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