COVID-19 Updates

This page will be regularly updated for news and information on Covid-19 relating to Scottish Prisons and Prisoners, gathered from media, Government, organisations and individuals. For SPARC blog posts on Covid-19, check here. Please send info and news we have missed to our email ( /Facebook/Twitter @ScotSparc. Updated posts on earlier dates are in bold and italic.

5th March

SPS reports that “As at Friday 05/03/2021 there are currently 152 individuals who are self-isolating across 7 establishments. […] There are 16 confirmed cases of COVID amongst those in our care. There are 12 positive  cases in HMP Kilmarnock.” Remaining cases are in Addiewell and Dumfries. They also report that 2.6% (119) of the total workforce, are currently absent from their work specifically due to reasons related COVID-19. 

4th March

The Press and Journal outline concerns about the mental health of prisoners and that healthcare staff are “tired, overstretched and stressed” in a HMIPS report (also published today), following a visit to HMP Grampian in November.

SPS reports that “as at Thursday 04/03/2021 there are currently 222 individuals who are self-isolating across 8 establishments. […] There are 18 confirmed cases of COVID amongst those in our care. A number of these cases are asymptomatic positives. There are 11 positive  cases in HMP Kilmarnock and 6 positive cases at HMP Dumfries  The remaining positive case is in 1 other establishment.” 

HMIPS tweet that “the backlog in prisoners awaiting offender behaviour programmes is a serious concern”, urging SPS to address this.

1st March

Inside Time publishes a story about technology such as mobile phones in cells, following post covid changes.

26th February

SPS reports that the prison population is 7,344 and that there are 20 confirmed cases of covid, including 12 in HMP Dumfries and 6 at HMP Kilmarnock, also at Cornton Vale and Addiewell. 240 individuals are self-isolating across 10 establishments. They report that: “On the recommendation of the Incident Management Teams, mobile testing units have this week been working in HMP Dumfries, HMP Kilmarnock and HMP Addiewell to support the prompt identification of cases.” Additionally, they report that 10.5% of the workforce are currently absent, with 3.2% (142) due specifically to covid-related reasons, with 44 symptomatic cases.

25th February

The Justice Gap publishes about the 100+ covid deaths in UK prisons (see 22nd February), and on recommendations on responding to covid published by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.

22nd February

Inside Time has published a story about passing more than 100 deaths due to covid in prisons across the UK, including 5 in Scotland.

20th February

Although SPARC missed the SPS covid update, Herald Scotland describes a “major spike” in cases, reporting that the number of covid cases among prisoners had increased from 189 to 364, with 247 positive cases at HMP Kilmarnock, 90 at HMP Addiewell and 25 at HMP Dumfries. 731 prisoners were self-isolating across 11 prisons. These look to be the figures published by SPS on 19th February, according to the Edinburgh News that also reports on the “spike” and the presence of mobile testing vans. They also report that 3.5% of staff are absent due to covid related reasons. Press TV also report on this story.

19th February

Humza Yousaf and Interim CEO of SPS Teresa Medhurst both write to the convenor of the Justice Committee regarding measures being taken to address covid outbreaks at HMPs Kilmarnock, Addiewell and Dumfries.

18th February

The Daily Record reports on an outbreak of covid at HMP Addiewell.

1st February

The Scottish Sun reports that the first Scottish prisoners (all aged over 80) have received their first coronavirus vaccines.

28th January

SPS reports that “As at Thursday 28/01/2021 there are currently 73 individuals who are self-isolating across 7 establishments. […] There are 7 confirmed cases of COVID amongst those in our care.”

25th January

Inside Time reports that vaccination has begun in Welsh prisons, but highlights that “The UK and Scottish governments have resisted calls for residents and staff in prisons to get priority for vaccination due to their high-risk environments. They decided, following expert advice from the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), that prisoners should receive the jabs in age bands at the same time as the general public, starting with the over-80s.”

22nd January

SPS reports that “As at Friday 22/01/2021 there are currently 214 individuals who are self-isolating across 10 establishments. […] There are 9 confirmed cases of COVID amongst those in our care.”

BBC reports that almost a quarter of Scotland’s prison population is currently awaiting trial, with remand prisoners spending 23hrs a day in their cell.

19th January

Scottish Legal News reports on the concerns raised by the SHRC (see 18/01).

18th January

The Scottish Human Rights Commission writes to Humza Yousaf raising concerns about Covid in Scottish prisons, in particular the rise of the prison population including remand. This is reported in The Scotsman.

SPS reports that: “As at Monday 18/01/2021 there are currently 145 individuals who are self-isolating across 9 establishments. There are 11 confirmed cases of COVID amongst those in our care.”

15th January

SPS reports that: There are 13 confirmed cases of COVID amongst people in prison. There are 108 individuals who are self-isolating in 11 different establishments. The largest numbers of people self-isolating are in HMP Perth (38), HMP Addiewell (32) and HMP Inverness (11). In total 10.6% of the total workforce are absent, with 145 staff, 3.2% of the total workforce, currently absent from their work specifically due to reasons related COVID-19.

13th January

SPS reports that as of 13/01/21, there are 97 individuals self-isolating across 12 establishments, with 14 confirmed cases of covid.

11th January

Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service Announcement that the majority of summary trials will be adjourned, estimated to reduce the number of trials by up to 75%.

8th January

HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland announces that it is to suspend on-site monitoring and formal liaison visits to prisons and Court Custody Units. The announcement highlights the risks posed by the new Covid variant: “Given the current new variant COVID-19 pressures and the potential for the vaccine to be rolled out in the next few months, reducing the risk of transmission is of paramount importance, and by reducing the number of people visiting the prisons and court custody units we will have contributed to reducing the risk.”

This decision will be reviewed fortnightly.

The Evening Express reports that there has been a Covid outbreak at HMP Grampian with nine prisoners and “a number of staff” becoming infected. The report suggests that at least 27 people have caught the virus.

Fife Today reports that lecturers have concerns about providing face-to-face teaching in prison, drawing on the story published in the Scottish Sun on 7th January.

The SPS publish a daily update on their Covid figures, noting that:

“As at Friday 08/01/2021 there are currently 150 individuals who are self-isolating across 10 establishments. A number of individuals are isolating as a precautionary measure after potential contact with a confirmed case.  There are 15 confirmed cases of COVID amongst those in our care.”

7th January

The Scottish Sun runs a piece criticising ongoing face-to-face teaching in prisons, which is currently delivered by Fife College. The story suggests that classes are less than half of their usual size.

(A 42 year old man has died at HMP Barlinnie – no further information regarding circumstances)

6th January

SPS publish the first covid figures since 18/12, reporting that there are now 14 confirmed cases of covid (this is up from 1 case on 18th December). There are currently 182 individuals self-isolating across 12 establishments. No information is provided about affected prisons, or about staff absences

They report that existing family visiting arrangements have been reviewed & remain in place: visits can take place, particularly where there are compassionate grounds (where the visit involves a child under 18, or where there are concerns for wellbeing). They report that: “We are also working to ensure that access to education, work, programmes and progression can continue where possible, however, this will need to be kept under review depending on local circumstances.”

4th January

The First Minister announced new lockdown measures for Scotland, although there was no mention on implications for people in prison and their families.

3rd January

Humza Yousaf interviewed by Inside Time says reported to have said that the judiciary have become more punitive and that too many people remain in prison for too long.

1st January 2021

(The SPS do not appear to have published any update on their covid statistics for two weeks now, since the last update on 18/12/20)

30th December

The Daily Record reports on the rise of people on remand in Scottish prisons, accounting for around a quarter of the prison population at the beginning of December.

26th December

Story in The Times (behind paywall) and the Herald about the 17,701 virtual visits for prisoners in Scotland made between June and the end of November.

There is also a twitter thread on this from Scottish Government’s Justice Comms team.

19th December

On 19th December, the UK and Scottish Governments both announced changes to restrictions over the Christmas period. We understand that there has also been last minute cancelling of planned home visits over Christmas for those in HMP Castle Huntly, although we do not know which date this was announced.

18th December

The Scottish Prison Service report that, as of 18th December, there were 1 confirmed case of covid among the prisoner population (the prison was not specified). 56 people were self-isolating across 10 establishments, including a number self-isolating after contact with a confirmed case. In addition, 10.3% of staff were absent across the SPS, with 2.1% (96) absent for covid related reasons. 47 of these staff are reporting to be symptomatic.

W. James Smith, Solicitor at McGreevy & Co (@ThePrisonLawyer) tweets to Humza Yousaf saying that he has heard that approx 90 prisoners were promised home leave over Christmas, which has now been cancelled and asking why. (No response)

The SPS website reports on the deaths of two people (aged 25 and 35) in custody at HMPs Barlinnie and Low Moss, but no further information is provided on the cause of death.

17th December

The Scottish Prison Service published a very brief statement on its review of family visit arrangements. This said that virtual visits continued & that “visits can, and are, taking place in all our establishments, particularly where there are compassionate grounds for these visits”. Compassionate grounds include: where the person in prison is under 18 or there are concerns for their welfare, or where a child under 18 is visiting a parent, grandparent or sibling. They also state that individual establishments may put local measures in place in line with public health advice & don’t provide further information on prisons in/visitors from tier 3 & 4 areas. A further review will apparently take place in early Jan 2021

16th December

The Aberdeen Evening Express reports on figures obtained by them through an FOI request on the numbers of staff working days at HMP Grampian lost due to covid (761 days between March & October).

Offenders (Homelessness on Release) debate in Parliament includes discussion of the high use of remand & arrangements with local authorities.

12th December

The Lancet publish a call for the early inclusion of people in prison within covid-19 vaccine plans, expressing concern about “the notable absence of prison populations in existing planning and guidance” in the UK. They note the high age-adjusted rates of covid in UK prisons (it is unclear whether figures given refer excl. to England & Wales).

11th December

The SPS website reports on the death of a person (aged 76) in custody at HMP Barlinnie, but no further information is provided on the cause of death.

8th December

Howard League Scotland analyses and tweets data from Scottish Prison Service showing the rise of untried prisoners in Scotland, from 15.7% of overall prison population in March to 23.8 % in November. They tweet that a staggering 64% of children in prison in Scotland are currently being held on remand.

An answer to MSP Rhona Grant’s written question gives the number of telephone calls made to The Samaritans on mobile phones by those in Scottish prisons up until 18 Nov (this is the only accessible helpline on these devices).

7th December

The Sun reports on calls from the Prison Officers Association for prison staff and people in custody to be given quick access to the Covid 19 vaccine. The article notes that six prisoner deaths have been linked to Covid.

4th December

The SPS report that: “There were 28 individuals who were self-isolating in 9 different establishments.

There were 0 confirmed case of COVID amongst those in our care”.

The SPS also publish their weekly update on staff absence, noting that on Friday 4 December: 424 members of staff (9.4% of the workforce) were absent; 51 people (1.1%) were absent due to reasons relating to Covid (including shielding, caring for families, self-isolating and being symptomatic); and 26 members of staff (0.6%) of the workforce are reporting to be symptomatic.

30th November

The Inside Time reports on the total number of people in prison across the UK who have died with coronavirus, leading with the headline: 13 prisoners die in second wave. The report notes that a total of five prisoners in Scotland have died with the virus.

27th November

The SPS report that: “there were 69 individuals who were self-isolating in 5 different establishments.

As a precautionary measure, a number of individuals were self-isolating after potential contact with a positive case.

There was 1 confirmed case of COVID amongst those in our care”.

20th of November

The SPS publishes new guidance on visits following the Scottish Government review of Local Authority protection levels. For prisons in levels three and four “family visits from all LA areas may only be permitted on an exceptional basis”. For prisons in levels one and two, visits can continue from people in other level one and two area. Visits from people in level three and four areas are suspended, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

These new rules are reported in the Inside Time.

Despite this, it is worth noting that SSI 2020/389 (laid on 20 November 2020 and came into force that same day), includes to “visit a person detained in a prison, young offenders institution, remand centre, secure accommodation or other place of detention” as a reasonable excuse, as a defence to breaking travel restrictions on entering/leaving tier 3 or 4 areas.

13th November

The Daily Record leads with the headline: Barlinnie jail slammed as “reservoir of infection” during Covid-19 outbreak

The article reports that people are waiting for healthcare in a cramped portakabin and that 65 members of staff at Barlinnie had tested positive for Covid “since the start of last month”.

The Daily Record article also reports that: “The Scottish Prison Service also confirmed that 400 prisoners – a third of the jail’s population – are self-isolating, although a relatively small number of cons has tested positive.”

The Scottish Prison Service’s own figures on the number of people self-isolating has not been updated since Friday 2 October. Today, the SPS notes that it will be updated on Monday 16 November, but a daily update for 12/11/20 is provided:

As at 12/11/2020 there were currently 719 individuals who are self-isolating across 11 establishments.

As a precautionary measure, a significant number of individuals are self-isolating after potential contact with a positive case.

There are 116 confirmed cases of COVID amongst those in our care.

This story is covered by the Glasgow Times, who report: “Over 100 Barlinnie prisoners test positive for coronavirus”.

The SPS also update their guidance on face coverings. All family and official visitors will now be required to either wear a face covering or show a Face Covering Exemption Card. Visitors without either will be offered a face covering, which must be worn for the visit to go ahead.

SPS website states for those prisons in tier 3 areas, people can only visit from the local authority area the prison is situated in. Visitors to Dumfries, Grampian or Inverness can only come from local authority areas in tier 1 or 2.

12th November

The publication of the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland annual report is being covered widely in the media. The National leads with the headline that reducing the prison population has avoided “a virus explosion”, while also highlighting the Chief Inspector’s view that Scotland’s high rates of imprisonment is “a major reputational issue for Scotland”. These elements of the Annual Report are also covered by STV News.

The publication of the report is also covered by The Courier, who report on a range of issues highlighted in the annual report, including: high prison numbers, suicides in prison, and the “grim realities” in some local prisons.

11th November

The SPS provides updated information about visiting. Due to new restrictions, if a prison is in level three restrictions, only people from that local authority can visit. Currently, this is the case for 12 of 15 Scottish prisons. Visitors to Grampian, Inverness or Dumfries must live in level one or two areas.

10th November

The Council of Europe publishes a press release on their Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics (SPACE) study, investigating the mid-term impact of Covid on prison populations in Europe. Scotland is identified as one of 12 jurisdictions where prison numbers were higher in September than in June of 2020.

9th November

The Daily Record reports that Barlinnie has been ‘hit with covid outbreak’ and that ‘a significant number’ of staff, and also some prisoners, have tested positive for Covid.

6th November

The SPS has not published a weekly update of Covid cases or prison numbers this week.

2nd November

The Inside Time publishes a piece by researchers at the University of Glasgow with the headline: Mental health in Scottish prisons under pressure during lockdown

30th October

The SPS has not published a weekly update of Covid cases or prison numbers this week.

25th October

The Evening Express also covers the questions raised about the prison population and conditions by the Scottish Liberal Democrats with the headline: Lib Dems warn Scottish prisons ‘fit to burst’

23rd October

The Scottish Legal News leads with the headline: “Prisons ‘fit to burst’ as activity levels plummet”. This story follows Parliamentary questions submitted by Scottish Liberal Democrat Liam McArthur. Mr McArthur said: “Prisons are fit to burst once again. People are being held in conditions akin to solitary confinement. Cells built by the Victorians for one person are seen as fit for two by the Scottish Prison Service. Experts say that human rights are being breached.

The SPS has not published a weekly update of Covid cases or prison numbers this week.

16th October

The SPS has not published a weekly update of Covid cases or prison numbers this week.

The SPS have announced the launch of a new tool that enables payments into PPC accounts to be made through online banking.

14th October

The Sun reports that twelve members of staff and two prisoners have tested positive for Covid in Barlinnie.

13th of October

The National reports on a Covid outbreak in the Immigration Removal Centre of Dungavel, noting that: “the Home Office has refused to say how many people are currently held there, or if any detainees have died of the virus”. The report also notes that this has led to renewed calls for the closure of Dungavel.

12th October

The Scottish Sun reports that nine prison officers have now tested positive for Covid at Barlinnie, with a further 24 self-isolating. The article goes on to note that two prisoners have tested positive, while those in Barlinnie’s A Hall (256 people) are self-isolating.

10th October

Sky news reports that 256 people (one whole wing) of Barlinnie prison are self-isolating following an outbreak of Covid.

9th October

The SPS has not published a weekly update of Covid cases or prison numbers this week.

The SPS have announced on their website the temporary suspension of visits to Barlinnie’s A hall, due to “positive cases of covid”

2nd October

The SPS reports that: as of 02/10/2020 there are currently 9 individuals who are self-isolating across 6 establishments. As a precautionary measure, a number of individuals are self-isoalting after potential contact with a positive case. The reporting also notes that as of the same date, the prison population is 7,484.

1st October

The Alloa Advertiser reports that lockdown restrictions in HMP Glenochil have led to a reduction in violent incidents and to people in prison feeling safer. This finding is taken from the quarterly report of the Independent Prison Monitors, which can be accessed here.

30th September

The Daily Record publishes a story from a “whistleblowing” officer on increasing levels of  New Psychotic Substances entering prisons through the mail, as staff shortages prevent items being screened. The anonymous officer notes:

“The amount of the drugs in jail is absolutely unbelievable. Due to the covid stuff, we’re not doing the searches as we could, to protect us, but the amount of drugs getting through is really big.”

27th September

The Scotsman reports on the resumption of visits.

26th September

The SPS announces that all visits will resume from Monday 28 September. Further guidance is available on their website.

24th September

The Daily Record reports that three people working for the GEOAmey prison escort service have tested positive for Coronavirus, with at least another 60 employees self-isolating as they await test results.

The SPS takes the decision to pause all visits from midnight on the 24th following the announcement of additional Covid restrictions by the First Minister. The pause is to allow the SPS to seek further health advice.

23rd September


The daily record reports that a medic at HMP Addiewell has tested positive for Coronavirus and all close contacts have been advised to isolate. However, the prison remains open. This story is also reported in The Sun.

18th September

The SPS reports that: As at 18/09/2020 there are currently 5 individuals who are self-isolating across 3 establishments. On the same date, the Prison Population is 7,418.

The SPS also reports that: As at 18/09/2020 there are 443 members of staff absent across the estate. 55 staff (1.2% of the workforce) are absent for reasons relating to Covid, and 11 (0.2%) are reporting to be symptomatic.

11th September


It has been reported that the number of people on remand has now exceeded 2,000 for the last two weeks. This is the first time since records began and COVID-19 has been identified as the likley cause. You can read the full story here.


Following yestedays announcement by the government, the rules on people meeting together are changing. From Monday 14 September it will only be possible for people from two households to meet together. As a result, we have had to make a change to visits and visitors from only one household will be permitted to visit an individual in our care at a time.
The number of people who can visit remains unchanged.
Visits to HMP Barlinnie, HMP Low Moss, and HMP Shotts remain suspended at this time.
These arrangements do not affect Virtual Visits.


Following advice from NHS Lanarkshire’s Health Protection Team and the Scottish Governement, SPS have suspended visits to HMP Shotts.

SPS also state that people who live in the restricted areas – North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, Glasgow City, West Dunbartonshire, East Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire – should not visit any other Scottish prison.

8th September

Following advice from Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Protection Team and the Scottish Government we are suspending visits to HMP Low Moss with immediate effect. HMP Low Moss is regarded as a household and is within the area covered by the recent restrictions. Visits to HMP Barlinnie also remain suspended.
In addition, individuals from the restricted areas – Glasgow City, West Dunbartonshire, East Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire – should not visit any Scottish prison. Virtual visits and access to telephones remain available.
These arrangements will be kept under review and further information will be posted when it is available.

2nd September

Temporary Suspension of visits at Barlinnie

Following advice from Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Protection Team and the Scottish Government we are suspending visits to HMP Barlinnie with immediate effect. HMP Barlinnie is regarded as a household and is within the area covered by the recent restrictions. People coming from the affected areas – Glasgow City, West Dunbartonshire and East Renfrewshire – should not visit any Scottish prison. These arrangements will be kept under review and further information will be posted when it is available. Please note that virtual visits are unaffected by these changes.

28 August

There have been reports of a confirmed case of Covid at HMP Low Moss.

24 August

The Inside Time reports that prisons in Scotland will continue to make use of mobile phones, which were introduced in response to the Covid 19 crisis.

23 August

The Daily Record reports that the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and the Prison Officers’ ­Association Scotland (POAS) have now reached an agreement that will see prisoners wear face coverings from tomorrow when they can’t socially distance to help combat the spread of Covid-19.

21 August

In their weekly update, the SPS report that the prison population is 7,380 and that there were 11 individuals who were self-isolating in 5 different establishments. There were no confirmed cases of COVID across the estate.

14 August

Scottish Parliament Justice Committee shares papers for a meeting to be held 17 August 2020 to consider impact of Covid-19 on justice services, including: “The impact in the Scottish Prison Service including effect on staff and prisoners, changes in prison regimes, effect on prison numbers and levels of remand (including also early release measures and parole), effect on family contact programmes etc”

13 August

Second prison staff member has tested positive for coronavirus at HMP Kilmarnock according to media reports.

Howard League Scotland tweets: “Re question on huge numbers on remand by @Liam4Orkney, it’s very welcome news that @HumzaYousaf plans to introduce regulations to enable electronic monitoring of bail through the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Act 2019 in Sept/Oct” with link to SPTV

Howard League Scotland challenges Justice Sec claim that prison regime is being eased (based on MSP James Kelly query, see below 11 August: .@HumzaYousaf: “The best thing that we can do for those in our care in our prisons is, in line with public health guidance, to ease the regime as best as we can,& that has happened over the past few weeks and months”. The sentiment is correct, but it doesn’t reflect the reality.

SPS Covid-19 Info Hub reports: “As at 13/08/20, there are currently 13 individuals who are self-isolating across 8 establishments, with no confirmed cases of COVID amongst those in our care.

“2 members of staff At HMP Low Moss have tested positive for COVID 19.   As a precautionary measure, and on the advice of health professionals, those residing in Clyde Hall Level 2 are being isolated, with the hall operating a restricted regime. These individuals are not presenting with symptoms and continue to have access to activities, recreation and exercise. Unfortunately, due to the need to isolate, they will not be able to have visits at this time.”

12 August

HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland reports on a 27 June visit to HMP Kilmarnock that social distancing guidelines were not always followed at a prison in which six inmates have tested positive for coronavirus.

SPS news release notes HMP Grampian visits to resume 17 August but will exclude visitors from Aberdeen City until lockdown of that area is lifted.

11 August

MSP James Kelly asks the Cabinet Secretary for Justice for an assurance that restrictions on prisoners bathing and exercise will be eased to ensure that the wellbeing of those in custody is a clear priority in our prisons.

8 August

50 staff at HMP Low Moss now self-isolating altering being in contact with Covid positive staff member, reported by Glasgow Live, which cites BBC Scotland report that the positive staff member had recently returned from holiday.

7 August

An officer at HMP Low Moss has tested positive for Covid-19. The BBC reports that this officer is isolating at home, and a further 40 staff were tested for the virus and are also self-isolating. None of these tests were positive. Prisoners are self-isolating for a week, and visits to people held in the affected wing have been suspended.

The Sun covers the same story, reporting that 49 members of staff (about 15% of the workforce) are self-isolating.

SPS Covid-19 Info Hub reports that as of 7 August: “In total 56 staff, 1.3% of total workforce, are currently absent from their work specifically due to reasons related to COVID-19. This includes those who symptomatic, self-isolating, shielding or caring for family members. Four of these staff…are reporting to be symptomatic.”

6 August

Physical visits were resumed across the entire estate by Monday the 3rd of August. Some details vary on procedures from prison to prison but general SPS policy is that visits will observe the 2 meter physical distancing rule. Only children under 12 will be exempt from this. Visitors will be searched by staff wearing PPE and visitors will have to wear either a shield or face covering when entering the prison, though they are not required to wear this throughout the visit. There remains less access to physical visits, particularly in larger prisons, so virtual visits will continue to run in tandem. For more details on visit rules and information on specific establishments see the SPS information hub.

The SPS has announced that physical visits in HMP Grampian have been suspended following the reintroduction of lockdown measures in Aberdeen. This story is covered in The Sun.

4 August

The Sun reports that jurors could watch trials from cinemas in an attempt to clear a backlog of court business, following a successful trial of this approach in Edinburgh.

3 August

The Inside Time reports that families have had “mixed” experiences of virtual visits, with some highlighting the importance of being able to see the person in prison, and others experiencing technological difficulties and “unsympathetic” responses from staff.

In person visits re-started in SPS prisons with social distancing measures in place including fewer numbers visiting, space between tables and shorter visit times.

31 July

The SPS reported that: as of Friday 31 July 2020, the prison population was 7,263. There were 7 individuals who were self-isolating in 4 different establishments. There were no confirmed cases of COVID across the estate.

Visits re-started at HMP Castle Huntly, Scotland’s open prison per inside reports.

30 July

Highly positive inspection of HMP Dumfries challenged by Howard League Scotland, which noted: “no offence-focused programmes available on-site with long waiting lists for progression assessments & programmes. With no current movement between sites, how can some prisoners gain their release?”

27 July

The Herald Reports that concerns have been expressed by the Chief Inspector of Prisons that urgent action is required to prevent “almost inevitable” overcrowding in Scottish Prisons as court business resumes.

24 July

The Sun reports the news that physical visits are due to resume in Scottish Prisons from Monday 3rd August. Visits were suspended in March to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

23 July

A 36 year old man has died in custody at HMP Perth.

Scottish Government begins publishing Covid-19 data report for justice related areas, including information about prison population during Covid-19.

22 July

As at 20/07/20, there are currently 2 individuals who are self-isolating across 2 establishments. There are no confirmed cases of COVID across the estate.

On Friday 17 July 2020, there were 508 members of staff absent across the SPS. This represents 11.4% of the total workforce. 

In total 173 staff, 3.9% of the total workforce, are currently absent from their work specifically due to reasons related COVID-19.  This includes those who are symptomatic, self-isolating, shielding or caring for family members.

8 of these staff, 0.2% of the total workforce, are reporting to be symptomatic.

20 July

A 45 year old untried prisoner has died in custody at HMP Low Moss.

Scottish Government publishes annual prison statistics for first time since 2015.

15 July

The Courier reports that the population of HMP Perth has fallen by “nearly one in seven” due to a slowing down of court business caused by Covid 19. The piece contains comments from the Justice Secretary, the Head of Corporate Affairs at the SPS, and Alexander Stewart, Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife; with the latter two identifying rising prison numbers and high levels of staff absence as particular concerns.

13 July

A 36 year old untried prisoner has died in custody at HMP Addiewell.

9 July

European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) issues follow-up statement following members’ responses on covid measures.

8 July

As of 08/07/20, there are currently 11 individuals who are self-isolating across 6 establishments. There are no confirmed cases of COVID across the estate.

On Friday 3 July 2020, there were 554 members of staff absent across the SPS. This represents 12.5% of the total workforce.
In total 238 staff, 5.4% of the total workforce, are currently absent from their work specifically due to reasons related COVID-19. This includes those who are symptomatic, self-isolating, shielding or caring for family members.
8 of these staff, 0.2% of the total workforce, are reporting to be symptomatic.

6 July

Daily Record report on family asking for answers after death of a prisoner on June 20th (outstanding questions remain, although the prison have said death not due to covid according to report).

3 July

Visits to care homes in Scotland resume, but not yet to prisons.

SPS website has no updated figures on numbers self-isolating or staff of for Covid related reasons; last figures on website are for 25 June.

2 July

The first Scottish death from Covid-19 is reported after a period of 4 days with no Covid deaths in Scotland.

1 July

HMIPS publishes report of its one day visit to HMP Addiewell on 13 May: ‘inspectors were concerned that in having to follow the guidance of HPS, those isolated under Rule 41 were not getting any access to fresh air. This sits uncomfortably with human rights legislation.’

HMIPS tweets in reply to concerned family members that they have a planned visit to HMP Edinburgh on 15 July

29 June

The Times reports demands made to Minister Humza Yousaf to confirm whether SPS early release plans were in response to prison ‘riots’ (see 25 March update), when ‘inmates took over a wing of Addiewell prison in West Lothian in March, starting fires and injuring officers as fears over Covid-19 grew’. The claim are based on a Sunday Mail Scotland story (28 June?) publishing minutes of an SPS meeting on 25 March.

26 June

Two deaths in custody announced by SPS today: a 37-year old man at HMP Glenochil and a 38-year old man at HMP Addiewell.

SPS prison population at 26 June is 7,004.

Edinburgh Evening News reports on its FOI request showing breakdown by offence of prisoners released early under emergency Covid-19 powers.

25 June

SPS announced on Twitter the publication of its ‘Covid 19 Route Map’ a 4 phase plan

On 25/06/20 there were 5 individuals (prisoners) self-isolating across 5 establishments. There are no current confirmed cases in the prison estate.

A total of 424 staff, 9.6% of the total workforce, were absent from their work specifically due to reasons related COVID-19 (including 17 showing symptoms) out of a total 714 members of staff (16% of total workforce) absent across the SPS.

SPS tweets mobile phones now available at HMPs Dumfries and Castle Huntly, and virtual visits now available at HMPs Kilmarnock, Castle Huntly, Low Moss, Grampian and Addiewell.

24 June

HMIPS tweets that it has published report of its one day visit to HMP Edinburgh 1 May.

A 37-year old prisoner has died in custody at HMP Glenochil.

A 38 year old prisoner has died in custody at HMP Addiewell.

23 June

The Scottish Human Rights Commission has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to highlight ongoing concerns about the current conditions being experienced by some people in Scottish prisons during COVID-19. The Commission is particularly concerned about people confined to their cell for extended periods of time, with very limited access to shower facilities and time out of cells, including access to outdoor exercise.

SPS reports that at 23/06/20, there are currently 5 individuals who are self-isolating across 4 establishments. There are no confirmed cases of COVID across the estate.

22 June

SPS announces that booking is now available for virtual visits in Low Moss, Kilmarnock, Grampian, Castle Huntly and Addiewell. This is on top of the prisons where this is already available: Edinburgh, Perth, Barlinnie, Glenochil, Greenock, Shotts, Polmont and Cornton Vale, (this leaves Dumfries and Inverness without access).

Scottish Government reports no deaths from Covid-19 for second day in a row.

20 June

The Daily Record covers the introduction of mobile phones to HMP Polmont with the headline: “‘Bored’ prisoners spark chaos after spate of 999 calls after phones handed out at Polmont”. The source quoted in the article describes this as “mischief”, but notes it could jeopardise further distribution of mobile phones.

The Mirror also covers this story, noting: “It is now thought that the bulk of the 7,000 Scottish prison community may not be given phones until after family visits have recommenced.”

19 June

SPS reports that at 19/06/20, there are currently 7 individuals who are self-isolating across 5 establishments. There are no confirmed cases of COVID across the estate.

SPS reports prison population on week ending 19 June is 6,935.

18 June

Council of Europe publishes evaluation of the short-term impact of
COVID-19 on European prison populations

17 June

Cabinet Secretary Humza Yousaf statement to the Scottish Parliament covering issues such as access to mobiles and virtual visits, the prison population and the need to “monitor the prison population and ensure that its reduction is not short-lived” as courts re-open.

Convenor of the Justice Committee, Margaret Mitchell, writes to Humza Yousaf to request answers to points raised to the committee by letter, from Social Work Scotland and the Criminal Justice Voluntary Sector Forum, including points related to delivery of social work services in prison, family contact, and use of remand.

Margaret Mitchell also wrote to Humza Yousaf regarding points raised by letter to the committee from the Scottish Human Right’s Commission and the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland, including points related to the human rights of prisoners, conditions in prisons and YOIs, including solitary confinement, access to education, family contact and access to mobile phones.

SPS announces that mobile phones now in use at Polmont, with target for all prisons to have access to video visits by end of June per media reports

The Evening Express reports that the prison population has fallen 15%, largely due to a drop in court business. This story is also covered by STV news.

The Evening Express also publishes a story focusing on the anticipated introduction of video visits to HMP Grampian by the end of month. Quoting representatives from Families Outside, this piece highlights the possibility that families living in poverty will not have the technology to access these visits.

16 June

Changes made to the prison rules to allow mobile phones (with limited functions) and virtual visits, although governors appear to have significant power to restrict use.

STV news cover the introduction of video visits, featuring one family’s account of their “relief” at being able to see one another again through video visits. This story also highlights that video visits work best on laptops and tablets, and that the SPS and partner agencies are working to assist families who do not have access to these technologies.

Court of Criminal Appeal’s decision in HMA v Lindsay, a Crown appeal against sentence, has been published. It contains guidance for courts in how to approach sentence discounting during the Covid-19 pandemic (and discussion of current prison conditions). Suggests that current prison conditions, which it views as “temporary”, should not play a role except where the threshold for custody is “in a very fine balance”.

In contrast, the Scotsman reports Crown Office successfully appeals to lengthen a 4-month sentence to 10 month in case of a person who spat on police officers in April.

SPS announces that the first mobile phones to be issued in Scotland’s prisons were issued the previous day (15th June) at Cornton Vale. This story is covered by the Sun.

SPS announces that booking is available for virtual visits in five further prisons: HMP’s Edinburgh, Perth, Barlinnie, Glenochil and Greenock. It says that “roll-out to the remaining prisons will happen in the coming weeks and we anticipate that Virtual Visits will be available in all our prisons by the end of the month.” There is an information page for families

SPS reports that, as at 16/06/20, there are currently 9 individuals who are self-isolating across 5 establishments. There are no confirmed cases of COVID across the estate.

15 June

Karyn McCluskey, chief executive of Community Justice Scotland, writing in The Scotsman about how social contact can be difference between life and death – and so the impact on those in prison and their families.

CYCJ report published on children and young people’s experiences of COVID-19 and the justice system

12 June

As at 12/06/2020, there are currently 10 individuals who are self-isolating across 4 establishments. There are no confirmed cases of COVID across the estate.

SPS weekly prison population stats show 6,909 in prison on 12 June.

The Scottish Daily Record provides a video about how virtual visitation will work.

The Daily Record reports “Alarm” at the levels of staff sickness in Scottish prisons, noting that: “Last month it emerged more than 500 prisons staff – one in 10 of the total workforce – were off sick with Covid-19, to isolate from the virus, or to care for family members”.

Second tranche of Saughton Sonnets published by First Time Inside giving those on remand an opportunity to express in verse their feelings about being in prison during covid crisis.

11 June

Scottish Labour Justice spokesman James Kelly MSP raises issue of why it has taken three months to introduce virtual visits, and asks what support will be given to families without proper IT access to take part.

10 June

As of 10/06/20, there are currently 13 individuals who are self-isolating across 6 establishments. There are no confirmed cases of COVID across the estate.

SPS announces that from 15 June, video visits will be available in 3 prisons – Cornton Vale, Polmont and Shotts, three months after lockdown measures were begun and visits effectively cancelled.

HMIPS publishes full inspection report for HMP Edinburgh, noting that some prisoners subject to ‘effective solitary confinement’, as also reported by media. Though the inspection was conducted in late Oct and early Nov 2019, prior to the current pandemic, the Inspectorate report notes that some issues will be ‘exacerbated’ by the Covid-19 lockdown measures in prison.

9 June

Article from Falkirk Herald discusses early release of local prisoners.

8 June

There were 7 individuals self-isolating across 3 establishments and no confirmed cases of COVID across the estate, according to SPS.

7 June

The Scotsman covers the introduction of Video Visits, reporting:

“The installation of computers and broadband in revamped visitor areas in Shotts, Polmont and Cornton Vale will allow relatives to connect with their loved ones from their own homes from Monday,15 June.

The virtual visits are expected to be rolled out to other Scottish jails by the end of June.”

5 June

As at the 5th of June, 7 individuals across 5 prisons in Scotland were self-isolating.

There were also 731 members of staff (16.5% of the SPS workforce) absent, with 442 (10%) absent for covid related reasons.

The SPS reported the prison population was 6,888 at 5th June.

4 June

The Justice Committee has written to the SPS regarding problems setting up three-way video links so people held in prison can consult with both counsel and their solicitor together. The full letter is available here.

The Daily Record reports that 76 people were released in the final phase of the emergency early release scheme, bringing the total of people released in this way to 348.

2 June

The third, and final planned, set of releases under the Scottish prisons early release scheme has now been completed. SPS reports that since the 6th of May, a total of 348 people have been released to date (34 women, 314 men) as a direct result of the scheme. In the third round of releases:

  • Between 26 May and 1 June, of the 108 prisoners eligible for early release, 76 were released (27 vetoed, 5 released by other means, eg HDC)
  • Of those released, there were 8 women and 110 men

1 June

Construction of the Maryhill Community Units has been delayed due to Covid-19.

31 May

The Daily Record reports that the introduction of mobile phones to promote family contact will cost £1 million, with this sum being reallocated from a project to introduce in-cell landline phones in Polmont prison (with this project now being cancelled).

29 May

The SPS reports the prison population currently is 6,869.

The SPS weekly report on staff absence notes as of 29/5/20:  

  • 796 members of staff (18% of total workforce) absent across the SPS
  • 505 (11% of workforce) staff absent due to Covid-19 related reasons including symptoms, shielding, caring responsibilities
  • 24 (0.5%) are reporting as Covid-19 symptomatic

Media reports Scottish Health Minister says released prisoners will not routinely being tested prior to release.

The Daily Record reports on the number of released prisoners returning to Perth and Kinross, and the rate of sickness absence across the SPS.

28 May

SPS reports that it has produced another briefing letter for community partners (although the link appears to be to the wrong document on their website).

27 May

The Daily Record reports that of the 154 people released under emergency powers, 6 have been released to the Perth and Kinross area.

HMIPS publishes inspection report of HMP Barlinnie raising concerns and making ‘urgent’ recommendations over social isolation, purposeful activity, time out of cells. It unequivocally noted that ‘safe cells’ (used for people deemed suicidal) ‘should be condemned’. The inspection, conducted in late August and early September 2019 had noted even before Covid-19 that video calls for prisoners to contact family should be extended. The report recommended ‘fast tracking’ construction of a new prison to replace the current HMP Barlinnie.

25 May

SPS reports the death in custody at HMP Shotts of a 39 year old man.

SPS publishes second report on the second round of early prisoner releases:

  • Between 19-25 May: 118 were released of 133 eligible (13 vetoed, 2 released by other means eg HDC)
  • Of 133 released, 8 were women, 110 were men

22 May

The SPS reports the prison population is currently 6,905.

The Evening Express Reports that Chief Constable Iain Livingstone has described re-offending amongst people released early under emergency powers as “very, very low”. This story is also covered by Edinburgh Live.

21 May

The Aberdeen Evening Express reports that a man who was released early under emergency powers has been returned to HMP Grampian follow a driving incident.

20 May

SPS announces prisoner voicemail available.

19 May

SPS Publishes first report on early prisoner release under emergency Covid-19 powers:

  • Between 4-18 May: 154 were released of 204 eligible (23 vetoed by Governors, 27 released by other means, eg HDC)
  • Of 154 released, 18 were women and 136 were men.

18 May

SHRC sends letter to Justice Committee expressing grave concerns about human rights violations in prison, with some prisoners locked in cells 24 hours per day, among other issues.

A number of news outlets report that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon responded by stating that human rights of prisoners are a “key priority” of the Scottish Government.

16 May

Further coverage of recent deaths in HMP Perth appears in The Courier.

15 May

SPS confirms the death of a 6th person in prison due to covid-19, at HMP Perth, following another death at HMP Perth the previous day (reported in the BBC, STV, The Scotsman).

SPARC hears reports from Perth Prisoners who say they are concerned for their safety as hall staff fail to employ physical distancing measures or wear appropriate PPE while conducting close interactions or searches.

SPS reports prison population on 15 May is 6,961.

14 May

SPS announces that as of 14th May, there were 21 people self-isolating across 6 prisons, with 2 positive cases.

13 May

Parole Board Scotland releases some statistics on Tribunals and Oral Hearings and casework meetings conducted remotely, although these do not provide information on how many people are being approved for release.

UNODC, WHO, UNAIDS and OHCHR joint statement on COVID-19 in prisons and other closed settings. Emphasises the need to reduce overcrowding, maintain access to healthcare, secure human rights and allow for a gender-responsive approach.

Justice Committee write to Teresa Medhurst (Interim Chief Exec SPS) to ask about plans to publish regular statistics on early prison releases.

11 May

SPS releases new weekly bulletin with staff absences and by-prison breakdown of numbers self-isolating/confirmed cases. In this week’s bulletin it announces that as of 8th May, 560 staff (12.6% of the workforce) are absent for covid related reasons, with 50 staff (1.1% of workforce) symptomatic. 823 staff (18.6%) are absent overall.

Letter from Humza Yousaf to Justice Committee Convenor, covering a range of issues including prisons. Discussion of prisons focuses on human rights: offers assurances that HMIPS remote monitoring framework is consistent with the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Statement of Principles for COVID-19 in places of detention and WHO guidance.

Howard League Scotland writes article asking important questions about managing Covid-19 in prisons – noting many plans and options not yet exercised.

Scottish Housing News reports that the Scottish Labour Justice Spokesman, James Kelly, has called for a homelessness prevention plan for early release prisoners, saying that “The Scottish Government must make sure no prisoners are released into homelessness”.

Response by Humza Yousaf on twitter saying that they have been working with COSLA to ensure that this (homelessness) does not happen, and that Local Authority partners have a list of those due to be released in next 12 weeks to work to meet needs.

10 May

SPS announces that “As at 10/05/20, there are currently 22 individuals who are self-isolating across 7 establishments, 2 of whom have confirmed cases of COVID.”

8 May

SPS reports prison population is 7,032.

7 May

Daily Record reports 40 prisoners in last few weeks of their sentences have been released under emergency early prison release powers.

Howard League Scotland tweets SPS figures showing 28 prisoners self-isolating across 9 prisons and no active Covid-19 cases.

6 May

Howard League Scotland tweets SPS figures showing 30 prisoners across 9 prisons self-isolating with 1 positive case verified.

5 May

Released prisoner at Barlinnie warns of riot risk due to confinement approach in prisons as reported by BBC Scotland.

SPS posted news about a death in custody: A prisoner at HMP Grampian has died. He was convicted at Glasgow High Court in April 2018. Police Scotland have been informed and the matter reported to the Procurator Fiscal. A Fatal Accident Inquiry will be held in due course.

SPS write to people in prison with answers to FAQs on mobile phones.

SPS issues emergency early release briefing for community partners.

HMIPS publishes its ‘remote monitoring’ framework for managing prison inspection during the pandemic.

4 May

The Scottish Government announces that Regulations to allow a limited number of short-term prisoners nearing the end of their time in custody to be released early have been laid in Parliament.  The Justice Secretary is reported as commenting: “Public protection is paramount and there will be a ‘triple lock’ set of restrictions”.

The BBC reports on these plans to release up to 450 people from custody, in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID 19. The BBC notes this will involve releasing certain categories of people, who are within 90 days of their release date, gradually over the next 28 days.

This development is widely reported in The Scotsman, The National, Glasgow Evening Times and the  Aberdeen Evening Express.

The SPS reports that as at 04/05/20, there are currently 31 individuals who are self-isolating across 10 establishments, 2 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19.

Humza Yousaf says on BBC’s The Nine that emergency early release scheme and increase of electronic tagging will allow the majority of the prison estate to operate on single cell accommodation as well as introducing mobile phones.

SPS writes to people in prison again regarding early release.

3 May

BBC reports that Prisoners on daily methadone prescriptions are to be switched to a weekly or monthly alternative to aid social isolation in jails.

Sun reports SPS planning more in-cell activities to cope with longer lock up periods during Covid-19, including education, meditation and yoga.

2 May

The Sun publishes an article on early release, leading with the headline: “Violent criminals could be released from prison early to release strain amid Covid-19 crisis”.

Prisoner at HMP Perth describes 23 hour lockdown and concerns about riots/disorder

1 May

SPS published no updates today on numbers isolating or weekly prison numbers.

SPS reports prison population is 7,128.

Inside Time reports Scotland has highest rate prisoner deaths due to Covid in UK.

Inside Time publishes Covid-19 timeline for UK.

Inside Time provides insider perspective of Scottish prisons under Covid-19

SPS writes to people in prison again regarding early release.

30 April

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf, writes to the Justice Committee noting that Regulations for early release under emergency powers will be brought before Parliament early next week, rather than today as planned.

The Daily Record reports that HMP Addiewell has more suspected Covid-19 cases than any other prison in Scotland.

SPS announces that, as of 30/04/20, there are currently 30 individuals who are self-isolating across 10 establishments, 6 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19.

29 April

The Scottish Human Rights Commission publishes a letter to the Scottish Parliament Equalities and Human Rights Committee, outlining the human rights issues arising from both the UK and Scottish COVID-19 emergency legislation. With regard to places of detention, the SHRC express concerns about: the need to reduce detained populations, the provision of PPE, guaranteeing equivalence of care for mental and physical health, the impact on mental health of “conditions which amount to solitary confinement’, two people being held in spaces designed for one, family contact, and public accountability.

The Daily Record reports that: Prison visiting areas will be revamped and fitted with computer screens and broadband connections to enable ‘virtual visits’ and that this is ‘likely to become the new normal…easing the burden on relatives to travel’.

SPS announces that, as at 29/04/20, there are currently 85 individuals who are self-isolating across 11 establishments, 8 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19.

28 April

SPS announces that, as at 28/04/20, there are currently 85 individuals self-isolating across 11 establishments, 9 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19.

SPS have published updated FAQs for families and visitors of those in prison.

SPS have provided further information regarding the regime for those isolating or shielding as a result of COVID 19

The Daily Mail reports that the SPS college has closed due to an outbreak of COVID-19.

SPS writes to people in prison with answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs)

27 April

SPS publishes guidance for contractors, suppliers or external partners carrying out essential work within, or delivering essential supplies to prisons.

SPS announces that as at 27/04/20, there are currently 87 individuals who are self-isolating across 9 establishments, 11 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19.

The Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee launches an inquiry on the impact of covid-19 on equality and human rights, and the groups disproportionately impacted by the virus.

The Alloa & Hillfoots Advertiser reports on the SPS response to Mark Ruskell MSP (Green Party)’s concerns regarding the implementation of social distancing at HMP Glenochil (see 21 April), saying that “We are asking those in custody to treat their cell as their home, and outside their cell as their street.”

26 April

SPS announces that, as at 26/04/20, there are currently 84 individuals who are self-isolating across 6 establishments, 13 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19.

25 April

SPS announces that, as at 25/04/20, there are currently 89 individuals self-isolating across 8 establishments, 13 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19.

Howard League Scotland highlight that – despite prison numbers having fallen, from 7,276 on 17th April to 7,176 on 24th April – the numbers of people on HDC has also fallen from 64 to 60.

24 April

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons Scotland publishes framework for remote monitoring of prisons.

STV reports that two more prisoners have died of coronavirus, one at HMP Dumfries and another at HMP Low Moss, bringing the total up to four (also reported on BBC, and in other news media)

SPS announces that, as at 24/04/20, there are currently 92 individuals self-isolating across 9 establishments, 13 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19.

23 April

Cabinet Secretary for Justice Humza Yousaf notes on Twitter that the introduction of mobile phones in Scottish prisons will take a “matter of weeks due to the security, logistical and legal issues”.

The Scottish Prison Service website notes: As at 23/04/20, there are currently 105 individuals who are self-isolating across 9 establishments, 13 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19.

Justice Committee virtual meeting covering the impact of covid-19 in prisons, hearing evidence from Humza Yousaf. Yousaf says that he has spoken to the Scottish Human Rights Commission and HMIPS about human rights and scrutiny of prison rules.

22 April

The Scottish Prison Service announces that the first prison officer has died from the virus, a senior officer from HMYOI Polmont, although  (reported in the BBC, STV, The Scotsman, the Daily Record) – a statement was also released by the Prison Officers’ Association.

Parole Board for Scotland release information about how they are operating during the lockdown.

21 April

Announcement by Scottish Government and Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf, that Scottish Government will begin to use emergency powers to release some prisoners early. The Regulations will be laid before Parliament so that release can start from 30 April. The scheme will be limited to those sentenced to 18 months or less and who on 30 April have 90 days or less left to serve.

Statement given by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice Humza Yousaf to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 21 April 2020. As well as early release, he talks about measures to mitigate social isolation, including the introduction of in-cell support materials developed by psychologists and plans for provision of mobile phones when security, technical & legal issues have been resolved. He confirms that Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland will be implementing a remote monitoring framework shortly.

Scottish Human Rights Commission welcomes announcement that the Scottish Government will begin to release people early.

Scottish Labour’s Justice Spokesperson James Kelly offers support for decision to release prisoners early, “provided they pose no risk to the public”

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, issues statement in support of plans for early release of prisoners.

The announcement is widely reported (with differing receptions) in The Herald, The Scotsman, The BBC, The Times, and The Scottish Sun

Holyrood publishes an interview with Humza Yousaf, in which has says: “I am hugely concerned about the fact that, before the pandemic, we had an overcrowded prison estate and the potential for that virus to spread really rapidly. […] we are now below operating capacity.”

Twitter thread from Karyn McCluskey on arrangements for supporting people being released from prison during the crisis.

Mark Ruskell MSP raises concerns about HMP Glenochil, saying he has received reports of prisoners exercising in groups of 25, no testing of prisoners & staff not able to routinely wear PPE. Humza Yousaf replies that: he will look into Glenochil; that “there are sufficient supplies of PPE” & these are being worn in line with guidance; that majority of those self-isolating are at HMP Addiewell as a precautionary measure; and that staff are being tested so that staff absence has dropped from peak of 25% to 20%.

The SPS announces: as of  21/04/20, there are currently 90 individuals who are self-isolating across 10 establishments, 12 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19.

SPS writes to people in prison about arrangements for early release .

20 April

The Evening Telegraph reports: HMP Perth staff accused of not following Covid-19 guidelines despite prisoner testing positive for virus

The SPS have responded to the letter of 26 March from the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee. This response addresses seven questions the Committee raised concerning: the safety of prisoners and staff, availability of PPE, family contact, the cost of the Email-A-Prisoner scheme, whether health information can be shared with families and the number of people held on remand.

The SPS Website reports, AS OF 18/04/20: There are currently 97 individuals who are self-isolating across 11 establishments, 11 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19.

19 April

The National newspaper tried ‘busting some legal myths’ about Scotland’s legal system and the impact of Corona.

17 April

The Scottish Government have published plans for mobile phones to be provided to people in prison to support family contact. The Government note: “There would be security restrictions on these phones, as with the current prison landline system. Outgoing calls could be monitored and would only be possible to numbers already included in existing prisoner call lists. The phones would not be text or internet enabled or be able to receive incoming calls.

The SPS Website reports: There are currently 97 individuals who are self-isolating across 11 establishments, 11 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19.

It also continues to note: “Today, as a precautionary measure and on the advice of health professionals, a number of individuals within one establishment are now self-isolating. These individuals are not presenting with any symptoms but have been in proximity to individuals who are symptomatic.”

Humza Yousaf writes to the Justice Committee, responding to the seven questions they raised on April 9, regarding changes to The Prison Rules. In the letter, Mr Yousaf describes these changes as “necessary to preserve safety”. 

Humza Yousaf also states that Scotland is very unlikely to “push forward with juryless trials” and admits that “any expectation that we can stop people dying in our custody, I am afraid, is just not an expectation we can meet”. 

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the Scottish Prison Service answer questions about changes to the Prison Rules.

SPS sends newsletter to people in prison, including a notice from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for Prisons Scotland about prison monitoring during covid.

16 April

SPS Website reports that there are now 93 people self-isolating across 10 prisons with 8 having tested positive.

SPS Website reports: “Today, as a precautionary measure and on the advice of health professionals, a number of individuals within one establishment are now self-isolating. These individuals are not presenting with any symptoms but have been in proximity to individuals who are symptomatic.”

Martin Garvin, head of external relations at Scotland’s Homeless network, argues that “Through effective joint working and information sharing, support for people making the transition from prison into proper housing could be – should be – straightforward”.

15 April

SPS website reports 94 individuals currently are self-isolating across 10 establishments, 8 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19.

Daily Record reports: Number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Scottish prisons rises to eight as dozens more self-isolate.

Conflicting media reports of one prisoner or unconfirmed, possible multiple prisoners testing positive for Coronavirus at HMP Perth.

14 April

Howard League Scotland tweets latest SPS numbers: 33 prisoners across 9 prisons are self-isolating.

BBC News reports second death in Scottish prisons due to coronavirus, at HMP Low Moss (also reported in Daily Record)

Earlier, Glasgow Times reported on the deaths announced day before of prisoners at HMP Barlinnie and HMP Low Moss, saying cause of deaths not yet known. Same article reports 20% of SPS staff now off sick/absent (SPS spokesperson), down from nearly 25% on 2 April (according to POA).

Inside Time reports on changes to the prison rules: “no daily shower for Scottish prisoners” . The Courier also reporting on these rule changes.

The Justice Committee tweets to publicise two developments: a letter from the Justice Secretary to the Committee regarding HDC guidance (see 10th April), and a letter from the Committee to the Justice Secretary regarding changes to the prison rules (see 9th April).

Multiple press reports of rooftop protest at HMP Barlinnie (Glasgow Live and Daily Record)

Daily Record reports an outbreak of coronavirus at HMP Perth

Nicola Sturgeon reported by HLS to have responded to Libby Brook’s question on prison plans by saying “I’m v. happy to see what info. we can give because..we want to be as open & transparent as possible”

Health Protection Scotland publishes updated information and guidance for non-healthcare settings, which would include prisons.

SPS writes to people in prison regarding changes to Home Detention Curfew & the removal of presumption against release – suggesting those previously refused may re-apply.

13 April

Death of 73-year old prisoner in Barlinnie and death of a 59-year old prisoner in Low Moss announced on SPS Website, although no information given regarding cause of death

Scottish Prison Service (SPS) spokesman Tom Fox told STV News that a second prisoner is suspected to have died from Covid-19 (after death of prisoner at HMP Edinburgh last week).

Howard League Scotland tweets SPS report that 34 people across 9 prisons are self isolating.

Daily Record report rooftop protest at Barlinnie.

SPS write to people in prison with update from Governor-in-charge.

11 April

Sun reports phones and iPads now ordered for Scottish prisons

10 April

The Scotsman and other media report First inmate at Scottish prison dies from coronavirus

Northern Ireland starts virtual visits in prison 

Humza Yousaf writes to the Justice Committee to inform them that HDC guidance has been amended, including the removal of references to the presumption against release for certain groups. 

9 April

Unconfirmed report of a prisoner dying of coronavirus in HMP Edinburgh

“pleased HMIPS have agreed to undertake independent remote monitoring within our prisons.” Humza Yousaf on Twitter

Women’s prison in England secures reduced rates on prisoner phone calls . SPS spends between £26,000 – £70,000 a month to Virgin Media for phone services.

Daily Record says 100 prisoners are self-isolating (vs 41 official figure given by SPS)

HMP Grampian sedating prisoners for 3.30 pm bedtimes 

Scots prison officers given emergency pay fund to cover staffing crisis during coronavirus pandemic. Insiders say £20 extra for prisoner escort not enough – unnamed sources

John Scott QC appointed chair of independent group formed to scrutinise Police Scotland’s use of emergency powers during the coronavirus crisis

The Justice Committee writes to Humza Yousaf regarding the changes to the Prison rules (The Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Amendment Rules
2020, requesting answers to 7 questions.

8 April

SPS Website: As at 08/04/20, we have 41 individuals across 9 establishments who are self-isolating.

Evening Express –New rules could ‘prevent prisoners from keeping themselves clean’

Daily Record – Six children in Scottish secure care units test negative for Covid-19

The Scotsman – Scotland’s prisons are a coronavirus hothouse. Here’s what we must do – Kenny MacAskill calling for the Scottish Government to establish a prisoner release programme (since reported in The Evening express , The Herald, The Daily Record and Scottish Legal News)

STV Coronavirus updates: Scottish Labour urges respect for prisoner dignity and rights

Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) publishes briefing on coronavirus and human rights, which disappointingly doesn’t mention prisons.

7 April 

Scottish Parliament: The Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Amendment Rules 2020: And, Policy note:

SPS Wesbite: as of 7/4/20, 42 individuals in 8 prisons self-isolating 

Cab Sec Humza Yousaf letter replying to Justice Committee‘s queries.

Interim Chief Executive of SPS, Teresa Medhurst, writes to Justice Committee to explain why normal process not complied with in amending prison rules

6 April

SPS website FAQs: The SPS will provide everyone in our care with a free allowance of £2.50 per week on their PIN phone balance. The weekly £1 TV rental fee has also been suspended and will no longer be deducted from people in our care.

The Scotsman How coronavirus has finally helped us to see prison inmates as human beings – Karyn McCluskey

The current pandemic is forcing Scotland to address its “out-of-control prison population”

4 April

Prisoner numbers have dropped by 500 people to 7500. Possibly due to fewer admission from the courts; plans to increase HDC: Humza Yousaf Twitter Thread

3 April

The Evening Times reports that Tayside court officers deny they were issued protective gear against Covid-19.

SPS writes to people in prison regarding PPE, with details of equipment staff should be wearing when working with a prisoner who is symptomatic.

2 April

Scottish members of UK National Preventive Mechanism letter seeking adherence to rights principles, reduced prisoner numbers, facilitate contact with families, clarity in time limits in Coronoavirus Bill 

SHRC briefing on Coronavirus Scotland Act inc extension of time limit for holding people on remand without trial:

Justice Committee write regarding whether/how it will be consulted by Cabinet Secretary Humza Yousaf in making important decisions about Covid-19 reponse 

BBC News Almost a quarter of Scottish prison staff absent from work due to sick leave, lack of PPE and hand sanitiser and absence of social distancing. 

Glasgow Evening Times Help is needed for many prisoners released early in coronavirus crisis – they need health, housing and other support

Evening Express Prisoner numbers should be reduced during Covid-19 outbreak, say watchdogs based on UKNPM (Scottish members) letter request

The Times Coronavirus: ‘Prisoners will riot if Scotland does not protect them’

Howard League (England) and PRT call for more prisoner releases:

SPS sends newsletter to people in prison, which includes a notice from Parole Scotland.

1 April

“Emergency powers for early prisoner release a ‘last resort’.” Statement by Humza Yousaf:

The Scotsman Inmates at Scottish jails not following social distancing, warn prison officers

Margaret Mitchell, Convenor of the Justice Committee wrote to Humza Yousaf after being contacted by prison officers about the dangerous lack of PPE and social distancing measures being implemented to address COVID-19 

SPS COVID Update – SPS can now accept money via online transfer to be given to those imprisoned

SPS writes to people in prison regarding arrangements for sending in money during covid.

31 March

Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill introduced

Rumours that Procurator Fiscals suggesting/negotiating bail in more cases to limit use of remand in Scotland – unnamed sources

UNODC Position Paper says reducing prison population is crucial preparedness and response strategy

SPICe briefing on Coronavirus Scotland Bill:

Justice Committee write to Cabinet Secretary Humza Yousaf and the SPS expressing concerns on behalf of prison officers who have contacted them

30 March

March 30th: Publicises their response to Coronavirus bill (, in which it highlights that the NPM: “urge facilitation of prison releases where risk assessment, and the impact on other services in the community deems this feasible, by expanding the use of existing instruments or executive release under emergency legislation” and advocate for “The need to consider ways to reduce the numbers of people remanded to custody. This could have the additional benefit of reducing the pressure on staff working in places of detention.”

Howard League Scotland Statement on Covid-19.

Northern Ireland Justice Department offering clear info on release of prisoners and other Covid measures

28 March

The Guardian Coronavirus: Scotland may release prisoners close to end of sentences

SPARC quoted extensively regarding the damage that could be caused by suspension of family visits if SPS does not provide new mechanisms for maintaining contact immediately.  

27 March

Stories about ‘Coronavirus riot’ at HMP Addiewell:

Charities and grassroots organisations join with Inquest and Women in Prison to call for UK government to take immediate steps to reduce numbers of people in all UK detention settings.

SPS writes to people in prison about restrictions to regime, with information about issues such as work (and pay during covid), suspension of home visits and work placements, and

26 March

25 March

Family concern of heavy lock-up and no contact with loved ones in prison: 

Holyrood magazine reports the Humza Yousaf has called for an expansion of HDC,howard-league-scotland-calls-for-release-of-lowrisk-prisoners_15286.htm

SPS COVID Update A family support line has been introduced 

Addiewell Prison disorder reported involving 10 prisoners as reported in various media, possibly triggered by concerns over Covid-19 and family visiting restrictions.

24 March

23 March

16 cases in Barlinnie:

SPS COVID Update SPS suspends all visitsSPS writes to people in prison regarding suspension of visits from the following day (24th).

21 March

Glasgow Evening Times Coronavirus: ‘Disaster waiting to happen’ in prisons over ‘perfect’ virus conditions

SPARC report quoted extensively in newspaper coverage, highlighting the lack of a clear plan to prevent a widespread outbreak of COVID-19 inside Scottish prisons.

20 March

Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament establishes dedicated web page for Covid-19 updates.

SPS writes to people in prison with a brief update, including guidance on self-isolation.

19 March

March 19th: (generic statement, which doesn’t mention prisons only ‘freedom from detention’)

18 March

16 March

SPS writes to people in prison regarding symptoms of covid & self-isolation. This follows on from communication on 3rd March, about ‘what is covid?’.


There is other information available on the SPS website, including an information leaflet for those leaving prison during covid 19 and another on keeping safe at home, but it is not clear when these were made written/posted. [Added here 23.06.20]