UK: 4,000 Prisoners to Be Released Early to Curb Coronavirus in Jails

A staircase is pictured inside Reading prison during an exhibition photocall at the prison in Reading, west of London on September 1, 2016. Having closed it's doors as a conventional prison in 2013, Reading Prison opens to the public for a major new project in which leading artists, performers and …
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The United Kingdom is set to release thousands of convicted criminals onto the streets in an attempt to slow the spread of the Chinese coronavirus in the prison system.

The Ministry of Justice announced that some 4,000 prisoners in England and Wales, who are deemed to be low-risk and who have two months or less left to serve of their sentences, will be set free in the coming weeks. The prisoners will be electronically tagged and released on licence.

The move is seen as an attempt to prevent an outbreak in the prison system, in which many inmates are in close contact with one another and many of whom share cells.

“This government is committed to ensuring that justice is served to those who break the law. But this is an unprecedented situation because if coronavirus takes hold in our prisons, the NHS could be overwhelmed and more lives put at risk,” Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said per The Guardian.

“All prisoners will face a tough risk assessment and must comply with strict conditions, including an electronic tag, while they are closely monitored. Those that do not will be recalled to prison,” he added.

Under the terms of the early release scheme, prisoners who have been convicted of violent or sexual offences or are deemed to be a threat to children will not be eligible for release. Those criminals that are believed to be a national security threat will not be released, either.

Prisoners who have been convicted of crimes connected to the COVID-19 pandemic or have displayed symptoms of coronavirus will also be barred from early release.

The pandemic has already placed considerable strain on Britain’s prison system, with an estimated 8,000 prison employees on leave due to the virus, representing a quarter of the nation’s workforce.

Ian Lawrence, the general secretary of the National Probation Service trade union, Napo, said that probation services in the UK are “already over-stretched”.

“Probation providers must work to ensure this new cohort can be supervised safely and not cause additional operational pressure and stress to the workforce,” Lawrence told the BBC.

So far, Northern Ireland, France, Australia, Germany, Canada, Iran, and the U.S. state of California have released prisoners early in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus.

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