Poland to let more prisoners serve sentences at home amid coronavirus

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland plans to extend a programme under which some prisoners are allowed to serve their sentences at home to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

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The justice ministry said its proposal could benefit up to 12,000 convicts who until now have not taken part in the programme, under which prisoners are kept under electronic supervision.

Poland has reported 692 coronavirus cases, including eight deaths form the virus. It has shut schools, cinemas and other public venues, banned foreigners from entering the country and urged Poles to stay at home where possible.

“We propose raising the upper limit of a sentence or the total length of sentences which can be served in the electronic supervision system to 18 months,” the justice ministry said in a statement.

Until now it was possible for sentences of up to a year.

The ministry said nearly 5,000 prisoners were serving their sentences under electronic surveillance and 9,000 more qualify for it. After the changes, around 12,000 convicts who are not yet serving their sentences at home could qualify.

Private radio RMF had earlier quoted Justice Ministry estimates that nearly 20,000 prisoners could benefit and said that older people sentenced to up to three years in prison could ask for a suspension of their term until the epidemic is over.

Denying this, the ministry said it would be possible only “in exceptional cases”.

Prisons have already banned visits and stopped letting most inmates work outside prison. Workshops in several prisons have started sewing protective masks and suits used in the fight against the coronavirus, the Justice Ministry said.

It was not clear when the draft proposals might become law. There are more than 75,000 people held in 172 Polish prisons and detention centres.

Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Gareth Jones and Timothy Heritage