Prisons across the UK could be forced to release low-category inmates to control the spread of coronavirus across the British justice system.
General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association Steve Gillan this morning said that some prisoners across sites in the UK have already been forced to self-isolate within the prisons due to the virus.
So far in the UK there have been over 1,000 confirmed cases of the disease and 21 people have died and Mr Gillan said he wasn’t aware of any prisoners across the system having tested positive but said that 75 were in isolation along with over 100 staff members.
It comes as leaked documents also showed that the police are currently drawing up plans to only investigate crimes involving loss of life if they become overwhelmed by the pandemic.
Speaking on Sophie Ridge on Sunday this morning, Mr Gillan was asked if the UK would introduce measures similar to that of places such as Iran, where the decision was made to release a small amount of prisoners.
The UK’s death rate doubled overnight as a further ten patients died from the coronavirus. The total number of cases in the UK leapt from 820 this morning to 1,140 on Saturday
‘Not as yet, but previous governments have done executive release and it could come in the future to free up spaces, looking specifically at low risk category prisoners.
‘For example, in category D there are about 4,000 prisoners, some are being isolated who have shown signs of the virus, no one to my knowledge has tested positive but they have been isolated in single cell.
‘Staff as well, prison officers are sometimes not recognised for the valuable work we do, and this is a great opportunity to recognise how brave they are’.
He claimed he had also written to MP Robert Buckland offering him a round table meeting to discuss various options for the prison service, but said that he had not yet received a response.
According to The Sunday Times, army chiefs are also planning to deploy thousands of military police on the streets.
The move is said to have been discussed in order to prevent civil unrest. Armed forces will also be deployed to guard overcrowded hospitals and prisons.
Plans seen at the National Police Chiefs’ Council last week indicated a traffic light system of red for ‘severe’ where ‘demand was exceeding capacity’. With the worst case scenarios marked in black.
Such measures would focus on events and incidents to protect people across the UK under article 2 of the European convention on human rights.
Mr Gillan (pictured above) said more needed to be done to keep prisoners safe
Mr Gillan claimed that 75 prisoners were self isolating and that 113 staff members were also in self isolation
TROOPS ON STREETS TO FIGHT VIRUS
Troops are to be deployed at hospitals and supermarkets
By Glen Owen and Mark Nicol and Harry Cole for the Mail on Sunday
Ministers have drawn up plans to put troops on the streets to help deal with the coronavirus crisis after the number of deaths almost doubled within 24 hours.
In preparation for the worst-case scenario, defence sources told The Mail on Sunday that Army units were stepping up their training for public order roles – including the guarding of hospitals and supermarkets.
The Royal Logistics Corps are preparing to be used to escort food convoys and the Royal Army Medical Corps is poised to build tented field hospitals next to care homes.
Troops trained in chemical, biological and nuclear warfare will deep-clean empty public buildings in case they need to be turned in to hospitals or morgues.
And the Army has also drawn up contingency plans to keep petrol stations topped up with fuel when the country reaches ‘peak virus’.
Defence sources told this newspaper that under the contingency plans, 38 military liaison officers would work with local councils to brief civil servants on how the Armed Forces could help combat the crisis.
The most essential staff, such as RAF Typhoon pilots, would be quarantined at work to ensure the UK’s continued protection and the SAS’s stand-by squadron would be held in the UK, rather than be deployed overseas.
If the crisis deepens, hundreds – possibly thousands – of troops could be deployed. Hundreds of members of the Armed Forces hold HGV licences and are trained in transporting hazardous loads such as fuel.
Members of the Royal Military Police would also support local constabularies, while troops could also be used to drive ambulances and fire engines.
Mr Gillan said discussions had not yet taken place as to whether or not other buildings may be used to house prisoners outside of the current facilities provided by the government.
It comes after 12 prisoners were left dead in jails across the country as violence and riots erupted.
16 prisoners also escaped while others also overdosed on drugs.
Mr Gillan added: ‘We don’t want a situation like Italy and communication with those in our care is paramount and we need to make sure everyone is safe.
‘In the past when the prison service was overcrowded we had to get prison ships. The welfare of those in our care is paramount, we can’t send prisoners home to self isolate.’
He added that there was ‘no doubt in his mind’ that the service needed more investment from the government.
‘I don’t want to make political points out of it but we are under re-sourced. In total 113 staff nationally and 75 prisoners are in isolation.’
Asked how prisoners with mental health issues would be assisted during this time he said there was also an increase in prisoners over 70 having mental health conditions.
‘Of course no one wants to see disturbances like in Italy but that’s why communication, proper screening and education is paramount.
‘Things will get bad – but we need to prepare prisoners’.
As prisoners are primed for more guidance on the virus military personel are also said to be preparing to fill the holes of key public service workers.
This would include ambulance, police and fire units, the plans would be implemented if 20 per cent of staff were forced to be off work due to the virus.
In Italy troops were put on the streets and Simon Chesterman, a national spokesman on armed policing for the NPPC told the Times that more than 1,200 fire arms officers could be deployed along with 2,500 Ministry of Defence officers.
One chief constable also told The Times that he may be forced to try and call for military assistance if sickness rates across his force plummeted to less than 15 per cent.
Adding to Mr Gillan’s concerns, one source also said that the way prisons are being run is also a major concern.
‘Italy tried to stop coronavirus getting into their prisons and banned visitors, but the prisoners rioted.
‘The military are required to help with prisons when the times comes, but we now have a very small military.