Coronavirus is a disaster for UK prisons. Release the harmless now

Hands Of The Prisonersource: The Guardian
published: 13 March 2020

The Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAS), a charity of which I am a trustee, asked the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) last week to release groups of prisoners in order to lessen the impact of coronavirus in the penal estate. They have done it in Iran, so why not here?

The UK government has already announced that it intends to ease pressure on prisons by increasing the number of prisoners released on home detention curfew with a tag.

But the PAS is calling for those inmates who are old or infirm; or have long passed their tariffs – if they are serving a wretched imprisonment for public protection (IPP) sentence; or simply do not pose a threat, to be released immediately. These include the more than 1,700 prisoners, mostly men, aged 70 and over – some of whom are 80 or older, with a growing number in their 90s.

Releasing these prisoners, who are now completely harmless, will undoubtedly save lives, not just of prisoners but also of prison officers and other staff, especially in jails where there are wings full of elderly inmates. We have already had the first case of Covid-19 in a prisoner at Strangeways in Manchester. Make no mistake, this virus will take hold.

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