Government to pause temporary release scheme for low risk prisoners

The temporary release of low risk prisoners, introduced to protect the NHS and reduce the virus’ impact on the prison populations, will be paused at the end of August.

Introduced in April, the scheme allowed for the early release of low-risk prisoners who were within two months of their release date – freeing up space in prisons for COVID control measures such as quarantining new arrivals, isolating those with symptoms and shielding vulnerable offenders. This was based on advice from Public Health England at the time, to protect life and avoid infections overwhelming local NHS services.

This scheme was introduced alongside other measures that stopped prisoner transfers between institutions and created over 1,000 additional spaces. At the time, there was concern that the virus would run rampant in overcrowded prisons. 

As cases have subsided nationally, and especially within the prison population, the government considers that there is no longer a need to continue the temporary release scheme. Current cases will continue to be worked through, with releases being made until Thursday 27 August 2020.

Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland QC MP, said:

This has been an unprecedented situation but thanks to the hard work and dedication of our staff we have stopped coronavirus taking hold in prisons, which means we can now pause the early release scheme.

We continue to keep this decision under review, but independent public health experts have judged our approach effective and we continue to do all we can to help the NHS and prevent our staff and prisoners from being at risk.

Only those prisoners who were low-risk and who passed stringent government criteria were granted temporary release. The government says that no high-risk offenders – including those convicted of violent or sexual offences or those who posed a risk to national security – were considered for release.