The SNP Justice Secretary will make a statement to MSPs today about Scotland’s prison population as problems with overcrowding grow steadily worse.

Angela Constance will update Holyrood just three weeks after a TV documentary about a looming crisis in the Scottish Prison Service last forced her to appear in parliament.

It followed the head of the SPS, Teresa Medhurt, warning inmates may have to be released early because of overcrowding, which increases the risk of violence and self-harm.

She told the BBC Disclosure programme: “If I have to say enough is enough then it is because we are at a tipping point. We cannot take any more. Prisons become very unsafe.”

Official SPS figures show the prison population has risen steadily this month, from 7889 in the week ending February 2, to 7934, 7940 and finally 7959 in the week to February 23.

Early SPS forecasts suggested the figure could top 8500 this year, forcing ministers to consider releasing prisoners without restrictions, as happened during the Covid pandemic. 

Ms Constance said after the programme aired that initial forecasts of a spring peak in numbers appeared premature.

However the SPS now thinks the problem has merely been deferred rather than avoided, and that numbers could still increase substantially by late spring, early summer.

Earlier this month, Ms Constance said she had no plans for an “emergency release” of prisoners nearing the end of their sentences.

In 2008, the SNP’s first full year in Government, ministers considered early release, prison ships, using military barracks and a Norwegian-style queueing system for jail because of fears of an overcrowding crisis which ultimately failed to materialise.

One of the key problems for the Scottish system is the delayed replacement of Barlinnie jail by HMP Glasgow, a project running around a decade late and £200m over budget.