The Catholic Church has joined calls for the government to tackle the spread of COVID-19 in prisons by urgently releasing some people where it is safe to do.
Lead Bishop for prisons Rt Rev Richard Moth said:
‘The tens of thousands of women and men in our overcrowded prisons are at particular risk from this pandemic. They are no less deserving of safety and healthcare than anyone else in our society.
It is very encouraging that ministers are considering releasing some people, to relieve pressure and protect the most vulnerable. Given the rate at which COVID-19 is spreading this should be done as soon as safely possible, particularly for older or unwell people, pregnant women and those who can be released on temporary licence without posing any risk to the wider public. Steps should also be taken to reduce the number of new custodial sentences at this time of crisis, reserving them for only the most serious offences.
For those who will remain in prison it is vitally important that the Ministry of Justice and the Prison Service continues extending access to phones and other opportunities from them to stay in touch with their families, now that visits have been suspended.
I understand that releasing people from custody will increase pressure on civil society, given that many will not have regular income or secure accommodation. Where possible I hope Catholics will support parish initiatives in response to the pandemic and contribute to charities through the National Emergencies Trust appeal.
Above all we pray for those in prison and everyone affected by this crisis.