March 26: The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed its first death among the 83,000 prisoners in England and Wales. An 84-year-old sex offender was confirmed as the first British inmate to die after contracting coronavirus, with another 19 prisoners infected across 10 prisons. The death and rising number of cases behind bars has prompted calls for those with underlying health conditions to be at least temporarily released.

Appeal, a charity law practice that specialises in fighting miscarriages of justice, has called for the temporary or early release of the following groups: prisoners convicted of non-violent offences whose appeal applications have passed the single judge screening stage; prisoners on remand charged with non-violent offences; prisoners aged over 70; prisoners with pre-existing serious health conditions; pregnant women, and all prisoners in category D minimum security open prisons.

Emily Bolton, Appeal’s legal director, said: “For the government to leave prisoners to die of COVID-19 behind bars when these deaths could be avoided is like leaving prisoners to drown in Orleans parish prison when the waters rose after Hurricane Katrina. Britain is better than this, and time is running out to avoid minor offences becoming capital crimes, and life sentences from becoming death sentences.”

A Prison Service spokesperson said: “The government’s absolute priority is to protect health and we have robust and flexible plans in place to keep prisoners, staff and the wider public safe based on the latest advice from Public Health England.”

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