MORE than 300 inmates and staff of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) have been infected with the coronavirus, the Justice department said on Thursday.

Of the total, 141 inmates and 38 prison staff were from the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa City, while 82 inmates and seven staff members were from the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong City, Justice Undersecretary Markk L. Perete told reporters in a Viber message.

Meanwhile, 33 prison workers from its national headquarters were also infected with the virus, he said, adding that 145 people have recovered and 16 inmates died.

The rest of the penal farms and colonies managed by BuCor reported no cases of COVID-19,” Mr. Perete said. “The BuCor continues its testing and contact-tracing efforts to prevent further infections.”

Mr. Perete said they were awaiting delivery of 5,000 COVID-19 test kits under a justice reform program.

Efforts were made to decongest jails and prisons because of the risk of a virus outbreak after calls and a petition from various groups to release prisoners at risk of dying if they get infected, the Justice official said.

Last month, DoJ said 117 inmates had been granted parole, while 424 more inmates became eligible for parole but were still awaiting clearance from the National Bureau of Investigation.

The Office of the Court Administrator has also ordered trial judges to enforce a six-year-old rule allowing the release of prisoners who have served the minimum penalty for their sentences and those who lack witnesses for their case.

The Supreme Court has issued guidelines as well for the release of indigent inmates through reduced bail. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas