Coronavirus: New rules could see prisoners take fewer showers

The proposed regulations include dropping the minimum number of showers for inmates to two a week.

Prisoners could be allowed to take fewer showers as part of measures to tackle the coronavirus outbreak in Scottish jails.

The Scottish Government has proposed regulations, which include dropping the minimum number of showers for inmates to two a week.

The move comes after it was revealed on Tuesday there are three confirmed coronavirus cases in the country’s jails.

Meanwhile, around 30 people are self-isolating across the prison estate.

Last week, John Angus, 66, who was being held at HMP Edinburgh, became the first Scottish prisoner to die after contracting the virus.

A second prisoner, Francis McCarthy, has also died from suspected Covid-19, after being taken to hospital from HMP Low Moss.

The 59-year-old, who died on Monday, was sentenced to life after being convicted in 1985 of murdering 26-year-old Thomas McKirdy, from Paisley.

Holyrood’s Justice Committee has written to justice secretary Humza Yousaf for clarity on several points of the new regulations.

The changes to the rules were laid down as a Scottish statutory instrument (SSI), which allow laws to be changed in certain ways without requiring an act of the Scottish Parliament.

The changes would limit the minimum number of times prison officials must ensure inmates bathe to two each week, compared to the current standard of every other day.

A document published alongside the SSI states the minimum requirements under European prison rules is two showers a week.

Under the new regulations, officials could also confine prisoners to their cells for 14 days on the advice of a healthcare professional if an inmate is required to self isolate.

The period could also be increased by a further 14 days should SPS staff deem it necessary.

The regulations will also allow for individual prison governors to suspend visiting, work and recreation as well as curtailing the distribution of books and newspapers to inmates.

Justice Committee convener Margaret Mitchell has questioned the move.

In her letter to the Justice Secretary, she said: “Whilst we recognise that this is still in line with minimum standards and SPS say they will use this rule if necessary, is it not more important during this health crisis to maximise standards of personal hygiene?”

She also asked for clarification on how many prison staff have been absent due to coronavirus, along with what is being done to allow visits to go ahead virtually and what consultations had been been done with prison and NHS staff before the SSI was drawn up.

The Tory MSP also raised the issue of mental health and well-being of prisoners in her letter, telling the Justice Secretary: “The impact of all of the rule changes is likely to have a major impact on the environment within our prisons.”

She asked: “What steps are being taken to monitor the mental health and well-being of prison staff and prisoners to minimise stress, sickness and absence rates, increased risk of suicide or self-harm, etc?”

Timescales for dealing with complaints from prisoners will also be extended if MSPs approve the SSI.

Earlier, Mr Fox said the prison population is at its lowest since March 2018.

He told BBC Good Morning Scotland: “We’re currently sitting with 7339 people in custody – to put that in context, that’s 821 less than the same week last year, so the population has come down.

“That’s probably due to the court business being interrupted and a variety of other factors, but it’s actually helped us maintain a greater degree of social isolation in prison than would have been possible had that not been the case.”

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