An exterior view of Dongbu Detention Center, considered one of the epicenters of COVID-19. (Yonhap)
More than 900 prisoners in South Korea will be released on parole this week as part of the government's precautionary measures against COVID-19 spread, the justice ministry announced Wednesday.
The ministry cited the need to ease overcrowding at correctional facilities for a "stable and swift" response to the virus infections.
"The early parole (measure) will be taken tomorrow," it said.
The ministry has lowered the bar for parole, especially for inmates who are vulnerable to the virus, including elderly ones and inmates with underlying diseases, as well as exemplary prisoners.
But inmates serving life sentences and sex offenders will be excluded, it added.
The move came as the government has been struggling to contain the spread of the coronavirus at correctional facilities nationwide.
A mass outbreak in a Seoul detention center, in particular, has led to more than 1,200 infections since late November. It became the second-largest infection cluster in the country following a minor religious group responsible for an early surge of COVID-19 in March.
Some cases have been also reported from inmates who have been relocated to other regions from the Seoul center.
To ease overcrowding and reduce infection risk, the government will extend the mandatory quarantine period for incoming inmates to three weeks from the current two weeks in all detention facilities.
The new inmates will receive a rapid antigen test before undergoing quarantine and then a polymerase chain reaction test before being released from quarantine. Prison staff members as well as inmates are required to wear face masks and take PCR testing every week.
When coronavirus cases break out at correctional institutions, rapid response teams will be installed there and detect potential patients quickly through analyses of surveillance camera footage and epidemiological surveys. (Yonhap)