DISUSED prison wings could be brought back into service if extra capacity is needed during the coronavirus outbreak.
A speedy upgrade would provide up to 1,000 extra places to isolate infected inmates – or detain those locked up for breaching possible future curfews.
Ministers have drawn up emergency plans to avoid disruption behind bars as staff face “unprecedented” challenges.
Prison officers will be offered bonuses to cover shortages and former governors who now work in ministries could be redeployed to cover front-line services.
Governors have been told inmates who had contact with a known coronavirus patient should be isolated in single accommodation.
The possibility of designating other buildings as prisons to cope with pressures has not been ruled out.
These could be used to detail infected people if the crisis escalates and police are given power to hold people “for a limited period” if there are concerns that they could be infected.
Senior figures do not believe large numbers of prisoners will have to be released to cope with any strain.
There is, however, significant concern about the impact on older prisoners with underlying health issues.
Ministers are thought to have not ruled out releasing vulnerable inmates most at risk, but the instinct in government is that they should serve their sentences.
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