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March 15, 20204min1200

The UK is bracing up for a likely outbreak of coronavirus in its prisons and has set up unprecedented plan to release thousands from prisons to stem the spread.

Reports by Daily Express say outbreak could force the UK government to release prisoners before the end of their sentences as part of their wartime measures to stem the infection spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The coronavirus outbreak in the UK may see convicted prisoners released early if the COVID-19 pandemic breaks out in jails.

The alarming measure could see thousands of prisoners released onto UK streets in a bid to free up spaces as well as avoid the virus spreading among overcrowded prisoners.

Steve Gillan, head of the Prison Officers Association, told Sky News that the government could easily enact an “executive release of prisoners,” before confirming it was part of the contingency plans in Whitehall.

Earlier this week, the Prison Officers Association (POA) compared conditions in England’s prisons to those found on cruise ships and the Prison Governors Association has said cases of the virus are inevitable.

In response, the government started drawing up emergency plans to avoid disruption in prisons, with unions saying prison officers face “unprecedented” challenges.

Sophy Ridge questioned: “Iran has freed tens of thousands of prisoners because of this fear of coronavirus spreading through prisons.

Mr Gillian told Ridge: “Not yet but previous governments have carried out executive release of prisoners. That may come in the future to up spaces in prisons.”

The POA chief suggested that this could mean that people are released, monitored then put back in prison or that ministers can look at low-risk category prisoners and just release them towards the end of their sentence.

He explained: “It could mean a temporary release or the secretary of state has the power to look at low risk category prisoners and just release them as that, before the end of their sentence.

“There are 4,000 prisoners in the Category D open estate. At the moment, some prisoners are being isolated who are showing signs of the virus.

“No-one has been tested positive yet, but they are being isolated in single cell accommodation.

“We all know prisons are grossly overcrowded and that can only happen for a period of time.”

The UK government has faced pressure to do more to tackle the epidemic after the UK death toll rose to 21 on Saturday.

This comes after Iran temporarily released more than 54,000 prisoners in an effort to combat the spread of the new coronavirus disease in crowded jails.

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili told reporters the inmates were allowed out of prison after testing negative for COVID-19 and posting bail.

In Italy, a number of inmates died during unrest at several prisons last week after visits were suspended.

Boris Johnson has even refused to rule out China-style lockdowns of entire cities as the Government stepped up its “wartime” measures in a bid to combat the outbreak.

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