By DLA Piper with the support of the Association for Prevention of Torture (APT),
Governments around the globe have reduced prison populations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with an estimated one million, mostly non-violent offenders, being granted early release according to a new report, 'A global analysis of prisoner releases in response to COVID-19', by global law firm, DLA Piper with the support of the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT). The global study of prisoner release schemes in 53 jurisdictions found that many governments took swift action to protect the health and safety of corrections staff, prisoners and the wider community, with over 475,000 people released from prisons and other places of detention between March and July 2020 alone.
The first schemes were introduced in March 2020, as the pandemic began to surge, in order to limit transmission of the virus in prisons where overcrowding and poor ventilation can place prisoners and prison staff at greater risk of infection. Some of the most successful early release schemes recorded by the study were in Iran (104,000+), India (68,000+), Iraq (62,000+), Ethiopia (41,000+) and Indonesia (38,000+).
With more than 11 million people detained in prisons in 2019, the schemes have shown that governments can act quickly to mitigate the risk of transmission in prisons. The report found that schemes where certain prisoners are permanently released can be a highly effective strategy, provided they are implemented in a structured, transparent and ordered manner.
Key findings of the global study:
- Legal basis for release: While all 53 jurisdictions had existing mechanisms allowing for the release of prisoners, only 40% relied on those existing measures, while 28% relied on new release measures (created in response to COVID-19) and 32% relied on a combination.
- Release of children: Only a third of jurisdictions took active measures to release children from detention. The largest reported releases were in Indonesia (939), India (665) and Bangladesh (489).
- Conditional release: Conditions were often imposed as part of the government's agreement to release prisoners. 42% of jurisdictions required prisoners to be of good behaviour and not commit any further offences post release.
- Support measures: A third of jurisdictions did not report any support measures available to prisoners upon release (pre or post COVID-19). The remaining two thirds reported some level of support for prisoners including programs related to accommodation, financial support, counselling, drug and alcohol rehabilitation and employment.
- Recidivism: Early analysis of recidivism rates for released prisoners suggests that the release schemes have been generally successful with below average recidivism rates.
- Availability of data: Only a quarter of jurisdictions published timely, disaggregated data on prisoner releases.