Peter McVerry SJ, and the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice have called for the full temporary release of prisoners with less than two years remaining on their sentences in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Keith Adams, Social Policy Advocate of the JCFJ says it is naive to presume that Covid-19 will not enter prisons and, if it does, the current environment would facilitate the creation of a cluster-zone, putting at risk the well being of prisoners, staff and the wider population.
Peter McVerry SJ adds that, “An immediate response is needed from the Department of Justice and the Irish Prison Service to reduce the number of prisoners to a level where confirmed or suspected cases of Covid-19 could be managed. Full temporary release for those with less than two years of their sentence remaining is a mechanism available to the Irish Prison Service to drastically reduce prison numbers. This is the only practical response. Preparedness and protocols will not matter in an overcrowded prison. A move to one-person one-cell is the only clear and logical solution”
Read their full press release below or read their blog post here.
Meanwhile, Kevin Hargaden of the JCFJ has written a blog post in which he says that the coronavirus shows the catastrophic nature of society growing in interconnectivity without corresponding growth in solidarity
Temporary Release of Prisoners Needed to Prevent Spread of Covid 19 to Irish Prisons
12 March 2020
Irish prisons have the potential to become cluster-zones for the incubation and transmission of the COVID-19 virus. The global pandemic is a threat to the health and lives of prisoners, prison staff, their respective families and the wider community.
Keith Adams, Social Policy Advocate, suggests that “There is a high risk of Irish prisons becoming cluster-zones for COVID-19 due to over-crowding, cell-sharing, and a growing group of older prisoners. When the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Ireland, the prison population was over 4,200 with five prisons officially overcrowded. 1,892 (47%) prisoners share cells with others so it would be impossible to segregate and isolate confirmed cases in an outbreak. One in seven prisoners are over-50, often with complex health needs and comorbidity risks. Collectively, these factors elevate the risk of a cluster-zone forming in Irish prisons.”
Peter McVerry SJ proposes that “an immediate response is needed from the Department of Justice and the Irish Prison Service to reduce the number of prisoners to a level where confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 could be managed. Full temporary release for those with less than two years of their sentence remaining is a mechanism available to the Irish Prison Service to drastically reduce prison numbers. This is the only practical response. Preparedness and protocols will not matter in an overcrowded prison. A move to one-person one-cell is the only clear and logical solution”
He continues “the temporary release of those prisoners with less than two years remaining could reduce the prison population by 960 people very quickly. The reality is that if a person with less than twelve months on their sentence is likely to re-offend on release, then it is just a case of when that re-offending occurs. Now or in 12 months times?”
Keith Adams, Social Policy Advocate, concludes that “More than half of female prisoners have sentences of less than two years so they could easily receive full temporary release permitting single-cell occupancy within both female prisons. Across all prisons, those on short sentences are the low-hanging fruit in order to seriously reduce the prison population and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Prisoners sentenced for non-violent crimes or who have almost completed their sentence pose less risk to the general community than COVID-19.” He continues “prison staff link the prisons to the wider community so an increased risk of transmission of COVID-19 poses very real threats to their families and the wider community.”
The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice do not seek to add additional burden or cost to prisons and the wider criminal justice system but wish to propose an effective solution to protect prisoners, prison staff, their respective families, as well as the wider community from COVID-19.