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7.5% inmates freed early due to Covid 'reoffended'


Naomi Long

Naomi Long

Naomi Long

Some 7.5% of prisoners released early due to the coronavirus pandemic have allegedly reoffended, the Justice Minister has said.

Last March, some sentenced inmates were released early in response to the public health emergency, with further releases since.

Further releases are expected at the start of February, with the scheme to be kept under review on a month-by-month basis.

Naomi Long said the reoffending figure was a relatively small proportion of those freed temporarily.

She added: "That compares favourably with the figures for prisoners serving a determinate sentence who are released on licence more generally.

"That is a very positive experience in terms of how we have selected the prisoners and shows that the right support has been in place for them in the community."

In March, Mrs Long said she had to consider measures that only a few weeks ago would have been unthinkable.

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She said prison officers were doing a good job amid the outbreak.

"There is a strong case and argument to protect prison officers by rolling out the vaccine more rapidly," she added.

She said wider provision was also being made for those who have been traumatised in the past to receive help, with a report on the matter due next week.

Some people remain off sick due to stress, the Justice Minister added during questions at the Assembly.

Police numbers have also been stretched by coronavirus and they also face pressures posed by Brexit.

Mrs Long said the Treasury had not been forthcoming with more cash to address the impact of the divorce deal.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne has asked for an additional 800 officers but the minister said they faced a flat budget for next year.

"The departments have little scope for additional funding," she admitted.

She said the Chief Constable may have to choose between additional officers and other policing priorities. She added that Mr Byrne believed he could meet the cost of Covid-19 overtime from within his current budget.

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