The early release of up to 450 inmates from Scotland's jails is to begin next week to help contain the spread of coronavirus inside prisons.

Justice secretary Humza Yousaf said bringing forward the release dates of some Scots prisoners is 'the most difficult decision' he has made in his time in the Scottish Government.

However, he said it is “the right thing to do for the safety of all those in our care”.

The Justice Secretary has asked the Scottish Prison Service to consider releasing convicts who are in the last three months of their sentence if they were sent to jail for less than 18 months – and said he anticipated between 300 and 450 inmates will be freed early.

READ MORE: Hundreds of prisoners set for early release

He stressed only prisoners already due for release within the next three months will be put forward for release, with those guilty of sexual offences, domestic abuse, terrorism or coronavirus-related offences excluded from consideration.

Individual prison governors will also be given a “veto” to block a prisoner’s release if they believe that person could cause harm to an individual or group of people once released, he added.

He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “The release should begin as early as April 30 – so the end of this month.”

Mr Yousaf added: “It will be done in a phased manner, not everybody will be released straight away for very obvious reasons, it will be done over a period of around four weeks.

“The reason why it will be phased is we are working really closely with local authorities to ensure that appropriate accommodation is found for those that need it, appropriate access to health services, addiction services, mental health services, where appropriate.

“So there will be a fair level of engagement with services at a local authority level.”

Some of the convicts who will be released were due to have been let out of jail “in a matter of weeks”, Mr Yousaf added.

He said: “We’re just bringing that forward because of the health imperative, the challenges we are facing of containing the virus.”

READ MORE: No-jury trial proposals labelled 'draconian'

The early release of prisoners, together with a “ramping up” of use of home detention curfew – where prisoners are released from jail and monitored using electronic tagging – should help increase the number of inmates who are not forced to share a cell, he said.

But the Justice Secretary said: “This is the most difficult decision I have ever had to make, certainly as Justice Secretary and I would say as a Government minister in the eight years I have been in Government.

“This is not a decision I have taken lightly but ultimately I am not there just to make popular decisions, that is a relatively easy thing to do.

“Sometimes I have to make unpopular decisions because it is the right thing to do for the safety of all those in our care.”


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