Catholic bishop urges UK officials to protect prisoners from coronavirus
CNA Staff, Nov 18, 2020 / 11:10 am (CNA).- As Covid-19 cases have been on the rise among the incarcerated, Bishop Richard Moth of Arundel and Brighton has called on the British government to reinstate an early release program to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Bishop Moth, the English and Welsh bishops’ representative on prisons, sent a letter last week to British Justice Secretary Robert Buckland. The statement was a follow-up to a letter earlier this year, which highlighted the release of vulnerable people in prison, such as pregnant women and new mothers.
“As we face a second wave, I hope that you will consider measures to counter the growing number of Covid-19 outbreaks among prisoners and staff by extending the Early Conditional Temporary Release Scheme,” he wrote.
“Through releasing some prisoners who pose a low risk of harm and who are nearing the end of their sentences, it may be possible to ease pressure on the prison estate. This can also help to protect vital family support networks, which have come under increasing strain throughout the pandemic.”
Bishop Moth expressed gratitude for the efforts of government officials and prison staff to minimize coronavirus-related deaths but said there are still threats to the inmates’ emotional and physical health.
“We also recognise the very significant cost that has been paid in terms of prisoners’ mental and physical health, restrictions to rehabilitation activity, and reduced family contact. I am sure you will agree that this situation needs further attention.”
The Early Conditional Temporary Release Scheme was begun in April during the first spike of coronavirus cases in the UK. The program sought to release low-risk prisoners nearing the end of their sentence to reduce the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons.
The scheme was first suspended after errors occurred in April when six men were released mistakenly by prisons in Sudbury and Leyhill as well as an Isis young offenders institution in south-east London. Once the mistake was recognized, the men were notified and they returned to prison willingly, the BBC reported.
A recent report from the British prisons office noted an increase in coronavirus cases, up to 620 in September compared to 550 in August.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, Pope Francis has encouraged authorities to be sensitive to vulnerable prisoners.
“The joint commitment against the pandemic can lead everyone to recognize our need to strengthen fraternal bonds as members of a single family,” Pope Francis said
“I read an official memo from the Human Rights Commission that talks about the problem of overcrowded prisons, which could become a tragedy.”