SOME prisoners are to be released temporarily from the North of Ireland’s jails in response to the crisis caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
It will involve “fewer than 200 individuals” who are entering the last three months of their imprisonment in Magillian jail in Co Derry, Maghaberry and Hydebank prisons.
It will not apply to prisoners convicted of serious crimes such as murder, terrorism and sex offences. There are about 1,500 prisoners in NI.
Twenty two people have so far died with Coronavirus in North of Ireland.
Justice Minister Naomi Long said there was “no alternative” to doing this.
“Such a move is contrary to the ethos of the justice system and will cause distress to victims and their families,” Mrs Long said.
“However, 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.”
About 200 prison staff – approximately 20 per cent of the prisons workforce – are currently off-duty due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Those who will be released will be subject to conditions including a curfew and a ban on victim contact.
The scheme will be kept under constant review, Mrs Long said.
It is believed the first release will occur later this week.
Prison visits to all three jails are already banned.