MORE than 150 prisoners have been released early to ease pressure on Scotland's jails in the coronavirus crisis, it has emerged.

Official figures from the Scottish Prison Service revealed 154 people had been let out in the first wave of releases - 136 males and 18 females. 

None of those released showed symptoms of Covid-19.

Prison governors vetoed the release of 23 prisoners - 21 males and two females - on the grounds it would too dangerous to let them out.

These inmates were deemed to “pose an immediate risk to harm to an identified person”.

Barlinnie jail in Glasgow saw the most early releases, with 25, followed by Edinburgh (19), Glenochil, Kilmarnock and Low Moss (all 17). 

Barlinnie also saw the most vetoes applied, with a quarter of the 36 inmates eligible for an early release refused one.

Overall, around 445 prisoners have been identified as eligible for early release under emergency coronavirus measures to relieve the burden on staff and other prisoners. 

In the first tranche, which ran from May 4 to 18, there were 204 prisoners deemed eligible, but 27 were let out in line with their sentence before the new rules could be applied to them.

In the second tranche, which covers May 19 to 25, a further 133 are eligible.

And in the third, which runs from May 26 to June 1, another 108.

Scotland's prison population is around 7000, and there are currently 24 inmates self-isolating across nine jails, one of whom has a confirmed case of Covid-19.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf in April that early release of prisoners would be needed in “these exceptional and unprecedented times”, acknowledging it would not be a comfortable development for victims of crime

He estimated up to 450 prisoners sentenced to less than 18 months would be considered for early release, provided they had 90 days or less to serve on April 30.

Some, but not all, were expected to be monitored using electronic tags.

There are legal bans on releasing certain prisoners on home detention curfew (HDC), including registered sex offenders, those on long sentences, and those awaiting deportation.

However in October 2018, HM Inspectorate of Prisons in Scotland recommended creating an additional presumption against HDC for more categories of prisoners.

This has applied since to prisoners jailed for a violent offence, for offences involving blades and offensive weapons, and to prisoners with “known links to serious organised crime”. 

As recently as January, Mr Yousaf reassured MSPs that the presumption would remain part of a new HDC operating protocol introduced in the wake of a notorious murder.

Student Craig McClelland was stabbed to death in Paisley in 2017 by serial officer James Wright, who had been “unlawfully at large” while on HDC. 

But last month Mr Yousaf told prison service officials to remove this presumption from the guidance on HDC because of the “exceptional circumstances” of the pandemic.