Campaigning groups are calling on the government to reduce the number of people in prison, young offenders institutions and immigration detention settings due to the high risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in those institutions.
In a letter signed by over 150 other charities and grassroots organisations, INQUEST and Women in Prison state that: ‘Detained people are reliant on the state for their health and safety. It is not possible to follow Government advice on COVID-19 in prison and immigration detention settings. People in prison are already dying. Many detention settings already have the virus within their walls, with thousands of frontline staff self-isolating. Astonishingly, people continue to be processed through a justice system despite the known dangers.’
“Covid-19 does not discriminate, nor should our response to it. People deprived of their liberty are totally dependent on others for their care, health & safety”@DebatINQUEST
Over 150 signatories have called for drastic reduction of people in detention: https://t.co/GNa3ZSW9Ji
— INQUEST (@INQUEST_ORG) March 30, 2020
The letter also demands that resources must be ‘reallocated so that no one is released into destitution or poverty or a lack of health and welfare support’. According to the groups, countries such as Iran and Ireland, as well as some US states already started to implement detainee release plans due to the pandemic. According to The Intercept, at least nine American prosecutors are now fast-tracking reforms to reduce the number of incarcerated people, including the release of detainees accused of non violent charges such as drug charges or sex work.
In the UK, the call for prisoner reduction has been intensifying while the COVID-19 pandemic develops. Former Justice secretary David Gauke and thinktank Reform also called fo the early release or the suspension of short sentences last week.
Appeal, the legal charity that campaigns on behalf of victims of miscarriages of justice, has also called for temporary or early release of the following groups: prisoners convicted of non-violent offences whose appeal applications have passed the single judge screening stage; prisoners on remand charged with non-violent offences; prisoners aged over 70; prisoners with pre-existing serious health conditions; pregnant women, and all prisoners in category D minimum security open prisons.