Call for prisoner releases to be considered as more than 160 officers self-isolate

By Rebecca Black PA

Prisoner releases in Northern Ireland should be considered during the coronavirus pandemic, Amnesty International has said.

The department of justice has confirmed that 163 prison officers in Northern Ireland are self-isolating due to Covid-19.

Inside the jails, prisoners with symptoms have been moved into isolation units.

Amnesty International has urged Justice Minister Naomi Long to consider releasing some prisoners at heightened risk from the virus.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International UK's Northern Ireland programme director, said prisoners with underlying medical conditions and the elderly should be immediately considered for alternatives to detention if they do not pose a threat to themselves or society.

"And there should be a presumption of release for people charged with a criminal offence who are awaiting trial," he said.

"Government should also consider amending sentencing guidance for judges to recommend non-custodial measures for people who have been convicted of lesser criminal offences.

"Decreasing the prison population and the number of people in immigration detention centres, such as Larne House, is a crucial means of slowing the spread of Covid-19 and keeping people safe."

Mr Corrigan continued: "Those shown to have an underlying health condition making them more susceptible to the effects of the virus should be considered for release on bail immediately, as should any vulnerable detainees and prisoners who don't pose a risk to society.

"It is important that the concerns of victims are taken into consideration and help inform decisions regarding releases.

"For those who remain in detention, the authorities must provide a standard of health that meets each person's individual needs, ensuring the maximum possible protection against the spread of Covid-19."

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