Philippines: Nearly 10,000 prisoners released over virus fears

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 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.

The move followed a directive issued by the Supreme Court to lower courts to release those awaiting trial in prison because they could not afford bail, Leonen told reporters.

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.

Outbreaks of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, have been reported at some of the most overcrowded jails in the Philippines, affecting both inmates and staff.

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