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Pregnant prisoners allowed home ‘within days’ in bid to shield them from coronavirus, Justice Secretary confirms

The move will see pregnant prisoners let out on license.

3 min read

Pregnant women in jail will be temporarily released “within days” in a bid to shield them from the impact of the coronavirus, ministers have announced.

The Government said women who had been deemed not to “pose a high risk of harm to the public” would be allowed out of jail subject to license conditions.

The move came as ministers resisted calls to sanction a wider early release of low-level offenders amid warnings that crowded prisons will be particularly hard-hit by the spread of Covid-19.

Pregnant women have already been isolated from other prisoners, with moves to curb normal inmate routines and enforce social distancing measures designed to limit the impact of the virus.

Justince Secretary Robert Buckland said: “We have already taken extraordinary measures to protect prisoners and the public over the last few weeks, but it’s clear now that we must temporarily release pregnant woman and those with small babies with them inside prison.”

He added: “Governors can now temporarily release pregnant prisoners so that they can stay at home and reduce social contact like all other expectant mothers have been advised to do.”

The Ministry of Justice said pregnant prisoners would still be “subject to licence conditions”, including being ordered to stay at home and wear electronic tags “where appropriate”.

The department added: “They can be immediately recalled to prison for breaching these conditions or committing further offences."

The decision comes amid mounting calls to order the early release of low-risk offenders in a bid to stop prisons becoming overwhelmed by the coronavirus crisis.

Unions representing prison staff and governors have made clear that they would back a move to allow some offenders to walk free to try to stop jails being over-run amid staff shortages and fears the virus could spread rapidly through prisons.

Andrea Albutt, president of the Prison Governors Association, told The Times this week: “The numbers infected and self- isolating are increasing and in the majority of prisons. If the government takes action now, we can help delay the spread of the virus in custody due to less crowding, which in turn will reduce the burden on the NHS.”

The latest Ministry of Justice figures, released on Monday, show that 55 prisoners have now tested positive for coronavirus in England and Wales across 21 prisons. 

Meanwhile 18 prison staff and four prison escort staff have also tested positive for Covid-19.

That represents a doubling of the total number of cases on the prison estate since the previous update on Friday. 

The MoJ has already moved to suspend prison visits during the Covid-19 outbreak, with some prisoners instead given secure phone handsets to allow those who have been risk assessed to get in touch with a “smal number of pre-authorised contacts”.

The department has also paused the usual regime prisons in a bid to observe government guidance on social distancing, which recommends that people stay two metres apart.

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