Coronavirus: Philippines releases nearly 10,000 prisoners as COVID-19 hits prisons

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The Philippines has released nearly 10,000 prison inmates as the country races to halt the spread of coronavirus in its congested facilities, according to a Supreme Court official.

The move follows a directive to lower courts to release those awaiting trial in prison because they could not afford bail, Associate Supreme Court Justice Mario Victor Leonen told reporters.

“The court is very much aware of the congested situation in our prisons”, Leonen told reporters as he announced the release of 9,731 inmates.

Covid-19 outbreaks have been reported at some of the country’s most overcrowded jails, affecting both inmates as well as corrections personnel.

“The court is very much aware of the congested situation in our prisons,” Associate Supreme Court Justice Mario Victor Leonen told journalists on Saturday as he announced that 9,731 inmates had been released.

Also among those who were ordered released were prisoners sentenced to jail for six months or below, as well as qualified elderly and ailing prisoners. They were released between March 17 to April 29, according to news reports.

Physical distancing is all but impossible in the country’s prison system, where cells are sometimes filled to five times their capacity due to inadequate infrastructure and a slow-moving and overburdened judicial system.

The worst outbreaks so far are at two prisons in the central island of Cebu, where two city jails have announced a combined 348 infections among more than 8,000 inmates as of Friday.

The outbreaks have fuelled calls from rights groups for the early release of prisoners charged with non-violent offences as well as the sick and elderly.

Overcrowding has become an even greater problem since President Rodrigo Duterte launched a drug crackdown in 2016 that has seen thousands sent to prison.

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