[Only 33 prisoners had been let out under the government’s Covid-19 early release scheme under which the Ministry of Justice originally claimed 4,000 inmates could be allowed out to relieve pressure on overcrowded jails. The Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, told MPs that 13 prisoners had died as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and some 280 other cases had been diagnosed.]
As coronavirus sweeps through jails it has been estimated that there are now more than 11 million people imprisoned across the world – the highest number ever – and some 102 countries report prison occupancy levels of over 110 per cent. According to the Global Prison Trends report (by Penal Reform International and the Thailand Institute of Justice) millions of prisoners are now vulnerable to Covid-19.
The virus is now known to be in more than half of prisons in England and Wales. According to the Prison Reform Trust, as of Tuesday, there were 294 confirmed coronavirus cases amongst prisoners in England and Wales, and 231 confirmed cases amongst prison staff. UK ministers announced earlier this month that selected low-risk inmates within two months of their release date would be temporarily released on licence in order to relieve pressure on the prison system.
But on Friday last week, two leading prison reform groups in the UK sent a formal letter to the justice secretary, Robert Buckland, informing him of their application for judicial review in relation to his response. The groups claim the rate of temporary releases has been far too slow to make any substantial difference. The study argues that an increase in prison populations is being driven by a preference for more costly prison sentences over non-custodial alternatives. Globally, the majority of people are in prison for non-violent offences: only 7 per cent for homicide and 20 per cent for drug related offences of which 83 per cent are for possession for personal use.
Read more: Billie Tomlinson, Justice Gap, https://is.gd/iCjZR2