New rules ‘could prevent prisoners from keeping clean’

Scottish Labour and the Liberal Democrats say prisoners must be treated with dignity during the coronavirus outbreak.

New guidance issued to governors could prevent Scottish prisoners from keeping themselves clean during the coronavirus outbreak, opposition parties have said.

Changes to the rules around prisoners and young offenders mean they are entitled to showers at least “twice a week” as opposed to the current rules allowing showers at least once every other day.

Books and newspapers could also be restricted during the Covid-19 outbreak, as well as other activities, recreation and counselling.

MSPs were notified of the new rules on Tuesday.

A letter sent to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee said: “Currently prisoners are provided with an opportunity to bathe or shower at a minimum every other day, this will be changed to twice weekly, this is consistent with minimum requirements of the European Prison Rules.

“SPS (Scottish Prison Service) only intends using this flexibility where necessary.

“Not all prisoners will be impacted by this change, as recently built prisons and accommodation blocks have in-cell showers.”

Scottish Labour said prisoners must be treated with dignity during the pandemic.

The party’s justice spokesman James Kelly said: “The Justice Secretary outlines the aim of preventing the spread of coronavirus in prisons, but is handing governors the powers to prevent prisoners from showering more than twice a week.

“The importance of personal hygiene has been highlighted since the outset of this crisis – yet our government is actively preventing prisoners from keeping themselves clean.

“The World Health Organisation has made clear that prisons must ensure that the human rights of those in their custody are protected when implementing measures to deal with coronavirus, and that they should not be cut off from the outside world and retain access to information and healthcare.

“These new powers raise concerns that this may not be the case on the Scottish prison estate.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur MSP said: “It’s hard to see how preventing prisoners from showering will help slow the spread of this virus.

“Prisons face particular difficulties in terms of containing and responding to the virus, while healthcare provision that was already under stress becomes even more so in the context of over-crowding and self-isolation.

“In the midst of this crisis, prisoners still deserve to be treated with compassion and dignity.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The wellbeing, safety and human rights of all those who live in our prisons is a priority for the Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service (SPS).

“A number of steps have been taken by SPS to ensure social distancing and public health advice is adhered to and measures have been introduced to mitigate the impact of social isolation for those in it care.

“The Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Amendment Rules 2020 have been made to support SPS’s response to the exceptional pressures facing prisons during the current coronavirus outbreak.

“The amendments will enable SPS staff to focus on key functions and to help protect the health and safety of staff and prisoners. They will only be used in exceptional circumstances.”

A SPS spokeswoman added: “The safety and wellbeing of those living and working in our prisons is a priority for the Scottish Prison Service and we are working closely with the Scottish Government, Health Protection Scotland and a range of other partners to manage the unprecedented challenges we are all now facing.

“Covid-19 is impacting across all public services, including our prisons and we have already had to make difficult decisions to protect the health of those living and working in our prisons.

“These amendments to the prison rules are designed to allow the SPS to further respond to the exceptional pressures which may come our way.”

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