By Lisa Zengarini
The Lead Bishop for Prisons of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (Cbcew) has called on the British Government to go further in protecting prisoners and staff during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last Spring, the Government introduced an Early Conditional Temporary Release Scheme allowing the release of vulnerable prisoners who do not pose a threat to the public, including pregnant women and new mothers. The head of the Department, Bishop Richard Moth, contacted the UK Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland QC, to express the Catholic Church’s support to the decision.
In a new letter to the Secretary, the prelate asked the British Government to consider measures to counter the growing number of Covid-19 outbreaks among prisoners and staff by extending the Scheme. “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”, he said.
Although recognizing the great efforts of governors and prison staff in minimising the loss of life from Covid-19 among the prison population, Bishop Moth also highlighted the “significant cost that has been paid in terms of prisoners’ mental and physical health, restrictions to rehabilitation activity, and reduced family contact”. According to the prelate “this situation needs further attention.”