The early release of 348 inmates from Scotland’s jails has helped reduce the prison population by 15% during the coronavirus lockdown, the Justice Secretary has said.
Giving a statement to Parliament, Humza Yousaf announced, that as of Tuesday, no prisoners had confirmed Covid-19, although nine are self-isolating.
Mr Yousaf said the reduction in the prison population to below 7,000 is “largely as a result of the downturn in court business”.
The Scottish Government’s early release scheme applied to those sentenced to 18 months or fewer who had 90 days or under left to serve as of April 30.
Certain convicts, such as sex offenders, domestic abusers and terrorists, were automatically excluded from consideration.
According to the Scottish Prison Service’s annual statistics, 2005-06 was the last year in which the prison population was below 7,000.
Mr Yousaf told MSPs the drop in prisoner numbers has helped enable physical distancing during the coronavirus pandemic and said ministers will be working to try to maintain a lower prison population.
He said: “In light of the continuing arrival of new remand prisoners and the gradual reopening of the courts, we must continue to monitor the prison population and ensure that its reduction is not short-lived.
“We need to enable a further shift from short custodial sentences in particular to more effective community-based interventions, which will help reduce reoffending and keep our communities safe while freeing up capacity in our prisons to support the rehabilitation of those on longer term sentences.
“This was a goal of this Government before the pandemic but it is more important now than ever if we are to sustain an effective and safe prison system.”
With lockdown measures being eased across Scotland, Mr Yousaf said the prison service is “developing a phased approach to the easing of restrictions across the estate”.
He said the first virtual visits by family and friends of inmates took place on Tuesday for some of those in custody at Polmont, Cornton Vale and Shotts.
Mr Yousaf added: “We anticipate that virtual visits will be available in all our prisons by the end of the month.”