Early prisoner release plan delayed to allow ‘final checks’

The regulations will now be laid before Parliament early next week, justice secretary Humza Yousaf said.

The early release of prisoners during the coronavirus pandemic has been delayed until next week.

Regulations were due to be laid before the Scottish Parliament to allow releases to start on Thursday.

But in a letter to Holyrood’s Justice Committee, justice secretary Humza Yousaf said the date would be moved to “early next week”.

He said: “The regulations are close to being finalised and we propose to lay them shortly.

“Although I had proposed to lay them today, final legal checks are being made to ensure that they will operate effectively, these final checks are absolutely necessary for a robust early release scheme that has public safety at its heart.

“I propose, therefore, to move the laying day to early next week.”

He said the delay may benefit those being released from prison, with access to services becoming easier.

The minister said: “This will also mean eligibility will begin at the start of a week thus helping avoid having emergency prisoner release run from closer to a Friday, when access to services may be more difficult.”

The scheme will allow for the release of prisoners with fewer than 90 days left to serve on their sentence, which is required to have been less than 18 months.

Between 300 and 450 prisoners are believed to be eligible for the scheme across Scotland.

Yousaf added: “Laying the regulations early next week will not significantly delay when the vast majority of eligible prisoners are released or the necessary easing of pressures on our prisons.

“I welcome the efforts of all partners in working hard to prepare to support these processes and my discussions with partners indicate they have done much to prepare and are standing ready to support release when it starts.

“Arrangements are also being put in place to notify victims who have signed up to the Victim Notification Scheme when individual prisoners are released.”

Howard League Scotland, a campaign group aiming to reform the prison system, voiced disappointment at the delay.

It tweeted: “Emergency prisoner release has been put back until early next week. This is hugely disappointing and potentially very damaging.

“The primary legislation was passed four weeks ago with a commitment made to this first release date on 21 April. A fuller explanation would be most welcome.”

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