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 Recent Posts and News & Comment Sections of website (or use search box for all Covid-related material). Please send info and news we have missed to our email (scot.prisoner.advocacy@gmail.com) /Facebook/Twitter @ScotSparc. Updated posts on earlier dates are in bold and italic.

31May

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).

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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 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”.

SPS Website reports: There are currently 93 individuals who are self-isolating across 10 establishments, 8 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19.

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.

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

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: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ssi/2020/122/article/2/made And, Policy note: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ssi/2020/122/pdfs/ssipn_20200122_en.pdf

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

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: http://www.scottishhumanrights.com/media/2005/coronavirus-scotland-act-2020-briefing-april-2020.pdf

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: https://howardleague.org/news/howard-league-and-prison-reform-trust-call-for-further-early-release-to-protect-prisoners-staff-and-wider-public-from-coronavirus/

1 April

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

https://www.gov.scot/news/ensuring-continuity-of-justice-during-covid-19/

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

https://www.scotsman.com/news/crime/inmates-scottish-jails-not-following-social-distancing-warn-prison-officers-2525633

31 March

Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill introduced https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-scotland-bill-business-regulatory-impact-assessment/

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: https://spice-spotlight.scot/2020/03/31/coronavirus-scotland-bill-spice-briefing/

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: https://twitter.com/ScotHumanRights/status/1244675885669715972?s=20 Publicises their response to Coronavirus bill (https://t.co/8z7KwDNiOu?amp=1), 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: https://www.edinburghlive.co.uk/news/edinburgh-news/fires-started-wardens-injured-during-17994244

https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/addiewell-riot-officers-injured-coronavirus-21749193

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.

26 March

https://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/news/scottish-news/5431210/coronavirus-scotland-prisons-jail-barlinnie-hospitals/

https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/calls-free-corona-risk-prisoners-21754398

25 March

https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/18332938.coronavirus-scotland-prisoners-may-released-early-pandemic-hits-staff-numbers/

Family concern of heavy lock-up and no contact with loved ones in prison: https://twitter.com/Mumof318/status/1242907203876671495?s=20 

Holyrood magazine reports the Humza Yousaf has called for an expansion of HDC https://www.holyrood.com/news/view,howard-league-scotland-calls-for-release-of-lowrisk-prisoners_15286.htm

SPS COVID Update A family support line has been introduced 

24 March

https://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/news/5421477/coronavirus-scotland-prison-self-isolating-covid-19/

23 March

16 cases in Barlinnie: https://twitter.com/deborah60745124/status/1243730256755818496?s=20 

https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/law-chiefs-plan-close-loophole-21736018

SPS COVID Update SPS suspends all visits

21 March

https://www.glasgowtimes.co.uk/news/18322513.coronavirus-disaster-waiting-happen-prisons-perfect-virus-conditions/

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.

19 March

March 19th: https://twitter.com/ScotHumanRights/status/1240668145423200256?s=20 (generic statement, which doesn’t mention prisons only ‘freedom from detention’)

https://www.ardrossanherald.com/news/18318071.coronavirus-update-march-19-first-minister-announces-latest-figures/

18 March

16 March

https://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/news/5393810/coronavirus-scotland-self-isolation-kilmarnock/