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100 prisoners set to be released as part of Covid-19 measures

There are no positive cases among the prison population or prison staff in Northern Ireland so far, the department of justice has said.

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100 prisoners in Northern Ireland have been approved for early temporary release due to the coronavirus crisis. (PA)

100 prisoners in Northern Ireland have been approved for early temporary release due to the coronavirus crisis. (PA)

100 prisoners in Northern Ireland have been approved for early temporary release due to the coronavirus crisis. (PA)

One hundred prisoners in Northern Ireland are set to be released over the coming days to ease pressure on the prison system.

Justice Minister Naomi Long announced earlier this week that up to 200 prisoners could be given temporary early release amid the coronavirus crisis.

On Friday, the department of justice said that approximately 100 prisoners have so far met the criteria set out in the scheme and will have been released by Monday April 6.

The spokesman also said that there have so far been no positive cases of Covid-19 either among prison officers or the prisoner population in Northern Ireland.

There are currently just over 1,500 prisoners in Northern Ireland.

Prisoners serving a life sentence, detained under the mental health act, those serving a sentence for a terrorist offence and those deemed a risk are among those who will not be eligible for early release.

Earlier this week Stormont’s justice committee heard that almost 200 prison staff are off due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Nearly a quarter of the workforce is absent due to precautions around the infection and unrelated sickness, Northern Ireland Prison Service director general Ronnie Armour said.

A small number of prisoners were being held in isolation and special measures are being taken to protect elderly or otherwise vulnerable inmates.

Mr Armour said: “There is no rule or guidebook to point us to the right answers.”

He said they were attempting to act with certainty but planning for the unknown.

A total of 197 staff are off due to Covid-19.

Another 94 are absent for unrelated sickness, totalling 23% of the current workforce, the senior official told the committee.

PA