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.

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 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.

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

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]