The Ministry of Justice has announced that pregnant prisoners who do not pose a high risk to the public are set to be temporarily released from custody. The move is to protect themselves from COVID-19 as 65 inmates test positive for the virus across 23 prisons. It comes after up to 200 prisoners in Northern Ireland were temporarily released on Monday, in anticipation of an outbreak.
The Government has said prisoners who are in Mother and Baby Units which meet the same risk assessments will also be released alongside their children.
Prison governors will be provided with the powers to grant release on temporary licence once a risk assessment is passed.
The Prison Service has also been said to have already isolated pregnant women and new mothers from the wider prison population in an attempt to shield the vulnerable group from infection.
The service will also be stopping all but absolutely essential transfers effective immediately to stop the spread of the virus.
Actions taken have been informed by the advice of Public Health Expert experts with the intention of slowing the peak of the virus to protect the vulnerable and the NHS.
Those released may have to wear electronic tags, where appropriate, to monitor them outside of prison whilst the outbreak is ongoing.
They can also be placed back in prison if they breach the conditions of their temporary release.
The close quarter living conditions of prisons are believed to potentially contribute to the spread of COVID-19.
The news of temporary release comes after a Guardian report today revealed prisoners who displayed symptoms of the deadly disease are being placed in the same cells as those who have tested positive for the coronavirus.
An HMP Wandsworth source said prisoners were sharing so-called ‘isolation’ cells to keep them away from the rest of the prison population.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman confirmed cohorting measures were in place to protect other prisoners.
In recent days, several human rights groups have called upon the Government to release prisoners.
The Indepedent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody also stated there should only be serious and violent offenders left in prison during the pandemic.
A spokesman for the group said: “Ministers and officials are faced with some of the most difficult decisions they have ever had to make, about balance of risk and the best ways to keep people safe.”
The new action, therefore, comes after the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said the issue of vulnerable inmates was being investigated by the Government to decide on the next course of action.
Two prisoners have now died after contracting coronavirus.
The first to be reported was 84-year-old Edwin Hillier, an inmate at HMP Littlehey – a category C male sex offenders’ prison.
A second, 66-year-old male prisoner at HMP Manchester also died in hospital after contracting the disease.
Published at Tue, 31 Mar 2020 17:59:00 +0000