A RELATIVE of an inmate at an overcrowded prison in Monmouthshire says she is scared for his safety during the coronavirus outbreak, and has called on the Ministry of Justice to rethink its pandemic guidelines.

The woman, who does not wish to be named, says the majority of prisoners at HMP Usk share a small cell and a bunk bed with another inmate, and she is concerned for the safety of prisoners and staff if current guidelines continue.

Figures show that of the 525 prisoners at HMP Usk and Prescoed in 2018-19, 312 (59 per cent) were living in crowded conditions.

The Ministry of Justice is working on a plan to release up to 4,000 risk-assessed prisoners that are within two months of the end of their sentences.

However, the guidelines state that no inmate sentenced for violence or sexual offences, and no-one sentenced for Covid-19-related offences will be released.

The relative of the inmate, who is not eligible for early release, says every prisoner has been provided with one PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) kit which they have to re-use.

"He (the inmate) has no criticism towards the staff," his relative said. "They are doing their best in horrid circumstances, but there is not enough PPE for people to stay safe there."

Those who test positive or show symptoms of coronavirus have to isolate together, according to the inmate, and are only allowed out of their cells for 30 minutes per day (one hour for those without symptoms) to exercise and use the phone.

Before lockdown, prisoners would be allowed to use the library most days and play sports once a week, said the inmate's relative, but those facilities have now been suspended indefinitely.

The woman added: "For the prisoners, the crimes committed do not warrant a death sentence, and if the overcrowding continues there, that might be what some of them get.

"The staff are key workers and are being totally disregarded, and I don't blame them for not being in work as much as usual."

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Our priority is to protect our staff, the NHS and save lives, and we have robust and flexible plans in place to do that.

“PPE is being provided to officers and all prisons have the soap and cleaning materials they need.

“We will temporarily release up to 4,000 risk-assessed prisoners and are working to identify publicly-owned sites that could be used to house temporary prison accommodation."