European countries are freeing up their jail spaces by releasing low-risk prisoners early in a bid to keep the coronavirus outbreak at bay.
Euronews reported on Thursday that releasing inmates early will allow for the government’s social distancing measures to slow down the virus transmission.
France, Germany, and Greece have all made moves to allow for early release of inmates, particularly those that are nearing their sentences or those that are unwell.
Meanwhile, Britain is underway with the release of some 4,000 low-risk convicts as coronavirus cases continue to climb, while more European countries are expected to follow suit.
Select inmates with only less than two months to serve behind bars would be released and monitored with electronic devices, according to the UK’s Ministry of Justice.
Quoting Mark Fairhurst, chairman of the UK prison workers’ union, Euronews reported that it was not safe having prisoners held tightly at the time of the pandemic.
“It’s very … difficult inside a closed prison because it’s so confined. Narrow landings—cell doors next to each other. It’s a very restricted area,” Fairhurst said. “Adhering to those social distancing guidelines can be done but it means we have to severely restrict our regime.”
The UK government admitted, however, criticisms from unions that the release of inmates is done at a slow pace. It said it hoped for the speedy release of low-risk offenders in the following weeks.
“We’re hoping that that process can be streamlined and we can get these prisoners out because as far as I’m aware, there are not that many prisoners that have been released since that announcement,” Fairhurst said. “It’s in the dozens rather than the hundreds so that needs to be addressed.”
Prisons Minister Lucy Frazer said that only four prisoners were released and that the number is expected to be significantly higher next week.
“We have been, over the last few days, conducting the absolute necessary checks to ensure the people we will be releasing early do not pose a risk to the public,” she said.
There is no EU-wide policy on reducing prison populations, but individual member states are taking their steps.
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