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Coronavirus: Prisoners could be released to relieve coronavirus pressure

PUBLISHED: 13:48 25 March 2020 | UPDATED: 13:49 25 March 2020

Prisoners could be released as staff numbers drop due to the coronavirus. Picture: Getty Images

Prisoners could be released as staff numbers drop due to the coronavirus. Picture: Getty Images

Archant

Up to 9,000 prisoners could be released from the country’s prisons to help limited staff deal with the coronavirus.

Entrance to Bure Prison. Picture: ArchantEntrance to Bure Prison. Picture: Archant

Norfolk has three prisons; HMP Bure, in Scottow, HMP Norwich and HMP Wayland, in Griston, near Thetford.

Justice secretary Robert Buckland said coronavirus was an “acute” risk in prisons, many of which were overcrowded.

About 10pc of the prisons workforce, 3,500, are currently off work due to illness and self-isolation, MPs were told at the Commons justice committee.

Mr Buckland said releasing inmates could help to “alleviate” pressures and he was keen to make use of release on temporary licence - where prisoners are let out for short periods, after a risk assessment.

Norwich Prison. Photo : Steve AdamsNorwich Prison. Photo : Steve Adams

He also indicated some 9,000 inmates who were on remand or waiting for their trial, could be transferred to bail hostels, and whether 50 pregnant prisoners could be released.

While this would reduce pressure on prison staff the MP for South Swindon said it would move the workload on to probation staff.

The call came as all prisons in England and Wales were put into lockdown, with all family visits cancelled.

Outside visitors, group activities and education classes have been banned and inmates have been confined to their cells for 23 hours a day.

HMP Wayland Prison. Picture: Ian BurtHMP Wayland Prison. Picture: Ian Burt

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said that 55 prisons would be given 900 mobile phones to allow prisoners to stay in touch with their family during the lockdown.

These phones do not have Internet access and would only be given to risk-assessed prisoners temporarily, it added.

Cases of coronavirus have been confirmed at nine prisons in England and Wales affecting 13 people, although the MoJ has not confirmed which prisons these are.

Mr Buckland said more tests for coronavirus were needed in prisons as well as protective equipment for staff.

So far 50,000 protective masks have been supplied to staff and a hand sanitiser ban has been lifted.

Virus cases in Norfolk have increased to 42 while nationally, the total number of UK cases stands at 8,077 with 422 people now confirmed to have died.

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