Calls to release low risk prisoners to ease pressure as COVID-19 spreads

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Calls to release low risk prisoners to ease pressure as COVID-19 spreads

HMP Wandsworth: Pic by Andy Aitchison

Ministers are looking to roll out a scheme allowing some prisoners early release. The Home Detention Curfew (HDC) allows for inmates jailed for less than four years to be released with an electronic tag and under a curfew up to four-and-a-half months prior to their scheduled release date.

‘The timing of the announcement is likely to fuel speculation that it is linked to fears of a possible outbreak of coronavirus in prisons, but sources insisted the two were not connected and it was instead related to wider capacity concerns,’ the BBC reported. Ministers want to increase the maximum period for which they can be released from four-and-a-half to six months. As of last week, 2,718 prisoners were on the HDC scheme. ‘

Meanwhile a prison officer was reported to be the first person in any UK prison to be confirmed as infected with the virus.


The HDC changes were presented to MPs on Monday. A Ministry of Justice impact assessment said the aim was to better manage the release of prisoners and the changes would also ‘reduce the prison population by allowing suitable offenders to be managed in the community rather than in custody for up to six weeks (45 days) longer’.

Steve Gillan, head of the Prison Officers Association, told the Sky’s Sophy Ridge that the government could look at an ‘executive release’ of prisoners. ‘This involves low category prisoners who may be coming to the end of their sentences being released to free up prisons,’ he said. According to Gillan, 113 staff and about 75 prisoners were in isolation after showing symptoms although none have tested positive. In the past, governments have done what is called an executive release.