Short-term prisoners nearing the end of their time in custody are to be released early in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Regulations will be put before the Scottish Parliament, so the measure – which could see between 300 to 450 people considered for release – can begin from April 30.
However, the scheme will be limited to those sentenced to 18 months or less and who, at the end of the month, have 90 days or less left to serve.
The release of prisoners under the regulations will be subject to exclusions to ensure public protection, such as those who are imprisoned for life or with convictions for sexual offences, domestic abuse or terrorism offences.
Justice secretary Humza Yousaf said the measures will help the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) “contain the spread of coronavirus” and allow it to ease restrictions on inmates “during these challenging times”.
He added: “The Scottish Prison Service has had to make significant changes to how they operate already in just a few weeks, with family visits paused, restricted activities and additional time in cells for those in their care.
“We must help staff to manage prisons in a sustainable way over the weeks and months ahead. This latest step – based on the emergency powers passed by MSPs earlier this month – will give them greater capacity to help ensure a safe custodial environment.”
Mr Yousaf continued: “The SPS is proactively working to increase numbers on Home Detention Curfew (electronic monitoring), however the capacity for HDC is limited by the current lockdown and social distancing measures. It is clear we will must use emergency release powers over and above HDC.
“This is not a decision that I have taken lightly, and I want to assure the victims of crime that this does not diminish what they have suffered.
“In these exceptional circumstances, I must consider actions that best reduce the prospect of further harm both in prisons and the wider community of which they are part.”