THE SNP has been told to do more to support prison inmates during the pandemic after it was revealed eight people have died from Covid-19 while in custody.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf was asked by outgoing Labour MSP Mary Fee how many people have died in Scotland’s prisons since the beginning of the pandemic.

In reply, Mr Yousaf submitted a response from interim chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), Teresa Medhurst, who confirmed five people had died from coronavirus in 2020 with another three deaths in 2021 which have initially been class as Covid-related.

Ms Medhurst said that “SPS is only able to confirm the cause of death once a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) has concluded”.

She added: “In 2020 there were five deaths in custody as a result of Covid-19. There have been three deaths in 2021 that have been initially reported as associated with Covid-19, however SPS await final confirmation of this by the medical certificate of cause of death (MCCD) or postmortem.”

The Scottish Tories have demanded better protection and funding to ensure prisons are better able to cope with the pressures of the pandemic.

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman, Liam Kerr, said: “All Covid deaths are a tragedy regardless of where they occur.

HeraldScotland: Scottish Conservative justice spokesperson Liam KerrScottish Conservative justice spokesperson Liam Kerr

“Prison officers have been under a huge amount of pressure to keep everyone safe while continuing to deal with their already very challenging workload.

“The SNP must ensure that all jails are properly resourced in order to deal with the additional challenges the pandemic brings.”

Scottish Labour justice spokesperson, Neil Bibby, said: “Lack of resources from the SNP Government has left authorities struggling to cope and Scotland’s prisons dangerously overcrowded.

“This has put prisoners and staff at undue risk; as well as these tragic deaths, there have been serious human rights concerns about the impact of Covid-19 restrictions in prisons."

He added: "We need new and imaginative solutions to deliver justice and guarantee public safety during the pandemic.

"Scottish Labour will deliver a community recovery fund to make our communities stronger and safer."

As of Monday, there were 125 people self-isolating across five sites managed by the Scottish Prison Service – with 26 confirmed cases of the virus for inmates.

A spokesperson for the SNP said: "The Scottish Government takes outbreaks in Scotland's prisons very seriously and have taken a number of steps to ensure that prisons across Scotland continue to operate safely and securely.

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"To the credit of multi-agency teams, whenever there has been an outbreak in a prison facility they have acted quickly to isolate cases and ensure there is no further spread.

"A re-elected SNP Government will continue to work with our partners in the Scottish Prisons Service to ensure we continue to keep staff and prisoners safe."

Last week, Ms Medhurst confirmed that three mass testing pilots for staff had been rolled out at HMP Perth, HMP Greenock and HMP Dumfries, adding there was “active consideration as to whether regular asymptomatic testing will be offered for those in our care”.