SDLP Justice Spokesperson Patsy McGlone MLA has said that careful management of a scheme to release some prisoners early as a result of the coronavirus crisis is needed following an announcement by the Justice Minister today.
Mr McGlone said that there must be robust support plans in place for anyone released to ensure that they do not present to agencies or services already under pressure fighting coronavirus.
The Mid Ulster MLA said that victims of crime must be informed of release plans well in advance and be given additional support to prepare.
Patsy McGlone MLA said, “There is a clear need to protect people working for and in the care of the Prison Service from the impact of coronavirus, particularly where there are instances of ‘doubling up’ in cells. A highly regulated release scheme is, in our view, appropriate but it must be managed carefully to protect prisoners and the victims of crime.
“I am glad that the Justice Minister has confirmed, following questions in the Assembly, that prisoners will not be released where they have complex needs that are being supported by the Prison Service at present. We should not be adding to the pressure of public services that are already struggling to cope with demand in the middle of this crisis. We must be assured, however, that anyone who is released will have a robust support network around them.
“It is imperative, also, that victims of crime are kept fully informed about this process and the release of any prisoner to a community that may cause distress for a victim is managed carefully and sensitively. People are under immense emotional strain at the minute. Every step must be taken to ensure that is not made needlessly worse.
“The scheme is likely to see the release of fewer than 200 prisoners. It’s important, therefore, that additional measures are put in place to safeguard the health of Prison Service staff and those prisoners who will remain on site throughout this pandemic.”