Commission welcomes plans to reduce COVID-19 risks in prisons through early release of those approaching end of sentences

The Scottish Human Rights Commission welcomes today’s announcement by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice that the Scottish Government will begin to use its emergency powers to release people from prison before their scheduled release date.

Judith Robertson, Chair of the Commission, said:

“People in prison are an extremely vulnerable population and those working in prisons are key frontline workers providing a vital public service. The epidemiological evidence is clear that prisons are places of high risk in the current pandemic, and the Council of Europe’s Committee on the Prevention of Torture has set out the human rights principles that should be applied to people in prison and other places of detention in this context.  

“While a number of measures have been adopted to date by the Scottish Government, the Scottish Prison Service and the judiciary, including Schedule 4 of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020, these measures have not yet managed to reduce the prison population to a safe and manageable level. It is therefore crucial to act urgently to reduce the prison population in order to ensure the continued safe and effective operation of prisons in Scotland and we welcome this announcement today that responds to this need.

“It is important that prisoners are fully supported upon release, with resources allocated to ensure their safe accommodation and to provide them with necessary financial, health and welfare support.

“It is also important to consider, assess and manage any impact of early release on victims, prisoners’ families and wider services in the community. Human rights impact assessments can play a key role in ensuring everyone’s rights are considered and adequately protected.”

The Commission recognises and supports the legislation previously passed by the Scottish Parliament that excludes from early emergency release any prisoner convicted of sexual or terrorism offences, or imprisoned for life. The regulations also exclude those serving sentences for domestic abuse offences, those with non-harassment orders, or those convicted of certain COVID-19-related offences.