Release some UK prisoners during COVID-19

Release some UK prisoners during COVID-19

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Amelia Williams started this petition to Boris Johnson and

Currently the Covid-19 pandemic is spreading rapidly across the UK adding severe pressure on the NHS and frontline staff. They are working tirelessly day and night and the last thing we want is to further add pressure and exhaust the system.

We must reduce the prison population to ensure that capacity is such that cells are not shared, there are sufficient medical beds, and enough prison staff to ensure safety for staff, those incarcerated. This is the overall purpose of this petition. The release vulnerable prisoners, those with underlying health conditions and those who have committed non-serious crimes where there will be no victim injustice or a high threat to society to help relieve the pressure on the NHS and the prison staff. Releasing such people will protect their fundamental rights under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) including the right to life, right to humane treatment when deprived of liberty and the right to be protected from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

The impact of an inadequate response reaches far beyond incarcerated people themselves. When this highly transmissible virus passes through facilities, confined individuals are likely to contract the virus from staff who enter and exit facilities daily—and staff who have not yet been infected will be at greater risk of becoming ill. Allowing this unnecessary exposure to a potentially deadly infection to the listed classes of prisoner will be such as to amount to torture. A society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good and so we ask that these principles of decarceration be applied as soon as possible.

Solitary confinement is not a substitute for providing people in prison who are exposed to COVID-19 with proper medical care or comfortable isolation areas. 

This petition holds a realistic aim and supports the fact that the temporary release would only be granted case by case and will help reduce the spread of COVID-19 not only among the prisoners, but also the prison staff who have to go home to their families at the end of the day resulting in further spread.

In addition to strategies to slow the spread of this virus and “flatten the curve,” we recommend mitigation strategies to prevent further dangerous situations, such as the riots and death that have occurred in facilities in China and Italy, and instead align with best practices and protect those most vulnerable with a humane, safety-focused, public health response - Much like the release of prisoners we have seen in Iran. There are currently 85 thousand prisoners locked up in UK prisons. Not all of those prisoners are repeat offenders, not all of them are dangerous and not all of those prisoners pose a serious risk to society. There are also remand inmates who are waiting to be sentenced. Since the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown in the UK Prisoners visits have been stopped and prisoners are being kept in their cells for up to 23.5hrs a day, sometimes only being released to shower. This will not only result in extreme anxiety, stress and boredom but in a few weeks, we will see a higher level of defiance, violence and rioting across UK jails as there has been in other countries already. Prisoners are not only unable to see their loved ones and legal representatives, but as phones/credit are also not always available, prisoners families are also suffering - especially their children who’s lives have been changed incredibly. To be locked up behind four walls watching the news of the current crisis and not having any comfort or support from a family or friend can result in psychological torture.

The healthcare inside prisons is below standards and is not the same as the healthcare provided to the public and the general hygiene in prisons is low. As prisons are overcrowded, some prisons with 3 people in one cell, social distancing cannot be implemented which will help to spread the virus faster putting pressure on the prison officers and resulting in a further spread outside the prison as the prison officers will take it home to their families.

• Women in prisons still have periods. Can you imagine having a period and not being able to shower everyday or being confined to a small environment?

• With the Virus spreading faster, more prison officers and prison staff will end up going into isolation/off sick meaning there will be less prison officers and staff to look after a large number of inmates. This will increase the level of stress and anxiety among the staff and without sufficient numbers of workers, prisons cannot run adequately.

Prisons have been described by the World Health Organisation as breeding grounds for the virus stating that if it hits it will spread like wildfire. This will increase pressure on the NHS and other front line staff,  it will also ruin many lives and that will not just be the lives of the prisoners but also those connected to them. It is all good and well saying we will get the military into the prison to help prison staff but we could use the military to help deliver food and medication to the vulnerable, help the police, to help deliveries and supermarkets.

Prisoners are still human. Not all prisoners have committed serious crimes such as murder, terrorism and sex offences. There are prisoners who can be rehabilitated, prisoners who have committed non violent offences. In Northern Ireland, Justice Minister Naomi Long said ‘there was "no alternative" to doing this’ (releasing prisoners) and that although “Such a move is contrary to the ethos of the justice system and will cause distress to victims and their families, in the context of the pandemic we are facing, and to ensure as far as possible the safety and wellbeing of staff and those in our care, it is I believe an appropriate and reasonable step."

Our justice system should be focusing on the fact that right now, there is a pandemic and moving prisoners to army bases which can be used for new hospitals or getting the military in is only taking away more support we could get for society outside. Releasing prisons does not mean they roam around freely, this means they are in the comfort of their own home or in a safer, more hygienic place and are not left completely alone.

They can implement a system that allows prisoners to be tagged to their homes (home curfew) on house arrest (so not allowed out) which will help them to isolate in their own homes with access to heating, water, food and their children/loved ones.

• They can have video calls / phone-calls with their probation officers

• Community service can be used to help criminals to repay for their crimes through being used to volunteer/work to support frontliners such as in supermarkets, security, warehouses , cleaners in hospitals/supermarkets, refuse workers (bin men/women) and cleaning the streets. This can be a requirement of their release and they will still remain on tag.

Some of the countries who are freeing prisoners early on temporary release during this pandemic are viewed as having barbaric and inhumane regimes and justice systems. Countries who have death penalty are releasing their prisoners on temporary release and so why can’t England release people on home detention curfews? Especially since our system advocates rehabilitation. The countries who have and are still currently releasing prisoners early or temporarily are; Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, United States of America, Brazil, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia and Northern Ireland. In the USA Cleveland and Los Angeles where among the first states to free hundreds of inmates currently New York’s Mayor has announced they will also be releasing prisoners temporarily to help slow down the pandemic. The advice for releasing inmates has come from World Health Organisation and so it should not be ignored.

Please be human and sign the petition it could help save many lives and we could have them help us in the community to help save lives - such as low level drug dealers (those serving 4 years and under for drug offences), tax evasion, common assault, drunk and disorderly, low level shoplifting, minor road traffic offences such as speeding and driving without due care and attention and other inmates. 

If we as a society pull together and all make changes to ease the pressure on the NHS, police officers, prison staff, governors, supermarket workers, delivery drivers, carers and support workers, fire services and other frontline staff, we can get through this!

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