"In doing so I recognise that to release a prisoner before he or she has completed their full sentence is a significant decision which should only be taken when there is no alternative. Such a move is contrary to the ethos of the justice system and will cause distress to victims and their families. However, in the context of the pandemic we are facing, and to ensure as far as possible the safety and wellbeing of staff and those in our care, it is I believe an appropriate and reasonable step", Long said in a statement, adding that it can be done only temporarily.
There have not been any reports of COVID-19 cases in the Northern Irish penitentiaries.
There are 19,522 cases in the United Kingdom, according to the country's government, with 410 of them in Northern Ireland.