Prisoners released early from Scotland’s jails to stem the spread of coronavirus have not been screened for the illness first, a Scottish Government minister has said.
As part of legislation to fight the Covid-19 outbreak, the Scottish Government announced plans to release prisoners nearing the end of their sentences with the exception of those convicted of domestic abuse and sexual or terror offences.
Governors were also given a “veto” to overturn the proposed releases on a case by case basis.
As of May 26, 272 prisoners had been returned to Scotland’s streets, with the veto having been used 36 times.
In response to a parliamentary question, public health minister Joe FitzPatrick said those being released are not routinely tested for the virus.
He told Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr: “Prisoners are not routinely tested for Covid-19 prior to liberation.
“In line with existing guidance, prison healthcare staff should inform their local health protection team if they suspect that they have cases of Covid-19 in the prison and health protection teams can arrange testing if required.”
According to a weekly update from the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), 30 prisoners are currently self-isolating and but there are no confirmed cases.
To date, the deaths of six inmates have been linked to the virus.
The SPS said 18% of its staff are currently absent from work, with the equivalent of 519 members of staff (11.7%) off due to coronavirus.
Mr Kerr called on the Scottish Government to test each early release prisoner.
He said: “Prisons have had outbreaks of Covid and prisoners have died from this virus.
“Despite this, the Scottish Government is just sitting on its hands watching hundreds of prisoners go back into society without making sure they are virus-free.
“There is no lack of testing availability – quite the opposite – there are over 10,000 unused tests each day.”
He added: “Each prisoner must be tested for Covid-19 prior to liberation to make sure they don’t pose a threat to public health.
“Given everything we now know, surely the least the Scottish Government could do is test these criminals to make sure the public is safe?”