Renewed concerns about the management of COVID-19 in Scotland's prisons have been raised by the Scottish Human Rights Commission.
In a letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf, the Commission seeks assurances that steps will be taken to address the rising prison population, which it says is fast approaching pre-lockdown levels.
"Of particular concern" is the increase in the remand population, which has almost doubled from 982 in April 2020 to 1,832 on 8 January 2021, out of a total prison population (as at 2 January) of 7,465.
It also asks that urgent steps are undertaken to better understand the prevalence and increased risks associated with COVID-19 for those who live and work in Scotland’s prisons.
The Commission restates its previous concerns in relation to "the lack of meaningful, transparent and accessible data to enable adequate monitoring of prison conditions. With prison inspections and in person independent monitoring largely suspended during the COVID-19 emergency situation, access to good quality data is essential".
Judith Robertson, chair of the Commission, commented: "Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have engaged with the Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service on a range of issues when it comes to protecting the rights of people who live and work in Scotland's prisons.
"Given the prison population is now rising again, as are COVID infection rates, it is all the more important that action is taken to address our longstanding concerns. In particular, we remain concerned that insufficient data is being provided to enable us to have confidence that people's rights are being adequately respected and protected across the prison estate."
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "The Cabinet Secretary will respond to the issues set out in the letter in due course but, as always, the wellbeing, safety and human rights of all those who live in our prisons are a priority for the Scottish Government and the prison service."
A clinical advisory group has been established to advise the prison service on its clinical and public health response, and is prioritising work to better understand the operational response required for the new variant.
Click here to view the full letter, which has also been copied to the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee and HM Chief Inspector of Prisons in Scotland.