Calls are mounting for prisoners to get early release after three UK inmates tested positive for the coronavirus.
Low-risk inmates should be released from prison to avoid them becoming "incubators" for coronavirus, a former chief inspector of prisons has said.
Nick Hardwick suggested prisoners with only a short amount of their sentence left to serve could be freed to help ease the pressure on the prison system.
Speaking on the BBC's Newsnight programme on Thursday, he said: "If you're talking about low risk prisoners coming to the end of their sentences, it's perfectly possible to manage them in the community safely."
He added: "No-one is saying you're going to let out huge numbers of dangerous people, but you can reduce pressure on the system by letting out a bit early people who maybe have got a month or two longer to serve."
Mr Hardwick warned that "hundreds" of prison staff were off work and self-isolating.
"There's undoubtedly more prisoners have the virus than have been tested and found to have it," he said.
He said a typical prison cell was "a bit wider than my outstretched arms, maybe twice as long, there would be two men in it, a toilet, and they're going to be there 24 hours a day".
Mr Hardwick added: "Now people may not be sympathetic to that, but be clear, people doing short sentences are going to be released back into the community and if we allow prisons to be incubators for the disease that's a problem for us all."
His comments come after the charity APPEAL called for a section of the total prison population to be set free to avoid exposure to the virus, but also a potential risk of suicide amid greater segregation within jails and lack of contact with relatives.
On Wednesday, the first case of an inmate being infected with Covid-19 was confirmed at HMP Manchester.
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Two inmates at HMP Kilmarnock in Scotland have also tested positive for the virus, it was revealed on Thursday.
"People are coming into the system, so if you don't let people out and you keep pushing people in, the system simply won't be able to cope," Mr Hardwick said.
He said the prison system in the UK was "better organised" than in Italy, where riots were sparked by strict lockdown measures and restrictions on visits.
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