A SERVICE which helps resettle prisoners in the community has set up a task force following a Government announcement that low-risk inmates will be given early release to help jails deal with coronavirus.

The Wise Group, which runs the resettlement programme Through the Gate for Durham and Tees Valley Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC), says it has created a specific engagement process for early releases to minimise the chances of prisoners leaving without support.

The organisation has paused face-to-face contact.

A spokesperson said: "This is the right thing to do to ensure the wellbeing of our colleagues and the people who need us in these exceptional times.

"The picture is evolving daily and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that we’re there to act as the virtual superglue that binds people to the support they need after leaving prison in unprecedented circumstances."

The Ministry of Justice announced on Saturday that up to 4,000 "low-risk" prisoners would be released early as part of efforts to tackle the spread of coronavirus in jails.

Inmates with two months or less still to serve will be released on temporary licence in stages.

The selected low-risk offenders will be electronically tagged and can be recalled.

It is seen as a way to avoid thousands of prisoners - many of whom share cells - becoming infected.

It is not known exactly how many prisoners will be released early from prisons in the region.

The Wise Group says in expectation of some prisoners being released early, it has set up a task force, which will mobilise immediately when it is told which prison releases will come from.

It is working with the Department of Work and Pensions, Turning Point, Simon Community, local authority homeless teams and local health and addiction teams to ensure the people we support get access to vital support for accommodation, addictions and benefits.

Its Through the Gate service was one of the areas rated as "outstanding" by HM Inspectorate of Probation in a report published last week. Overall, the CRC was rated as "good".

Ross Stoker, who leads the Through the Gate team, said: “I’m really pleased to that the Through the Gate team have been recognised in this way. The passion and dedication shown by our mentors is unwavering and the rewards have been clear. Not least for the people we support through person-centred mentoring to settle back in to their communities and move away from crime.”

The group handles reception and resettlement services at HMP Durham and a large scale, professional mentoring service supporting male prison leavers.

In the past year, it has supported 870 people mainly with accommodation and money advice support, as well as providing assertive mentoring to 162 prison leavers.