The government is planning to temporarily release something like 4,000 prisoners in order to control the spread of Covid-19 in jails.
4,000 is about 5% of the prison population of 83,000. Of those 83,000, at least 60% are in prison for crimes that do not involve “violence against the person” or a sexual offence.
The figure of 83,000 is not one necessary for public safety. Other countries get equal or better public safety with lower rates. The Netherlands and Sweden have only 61 prisoners per 100,000 population, while Britain has 139, and the USA 655.
Turkey is releasing almost a third of its prisoners (though none of its political prisoners), showing that 5% is a low figure.
The prison system is extremely overcrowded. Releasing 5% of inmates will not relieve much pressure. Overcrowding could see the virus spread like wildfire in prisons, as it seems already to have begun to do in the USA, sentencing many inmates to a high risk of death.
The Tories have made a big deal of insisting that no one who has served less than half their sentence can be released.
Kate Paradine, head of charity Women in Prison, says: “As a matter of urgency, the government must now plan to release many more people to drastically reduce the number of people in prison. Failure to act may have catastrophic consequences, causing many more avoidable deaths in our communities both in and outside of prison.”
We must demand the release of tens of thousands, and not just temporarily. Many fewer people in prison is essential for safety now; and for a more rational, less brutal society in the future.
Close the detention centres!
Following a string of actions by campaigners and immigration lawyers, something in the region of 350-400 people have been released from immigration detention centres, leaving about 700 detained.
The government is again dragging its feet, no doubt aware that if the numbers fall too far its whole justification for maintaining immigration prisons will look distinctly shaky.
Now is a good time to demand the Labour Party argues loudly for the policy agreed by its members, through party conference, to release all detainees and close all detention centres.