Image: Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Updated 10th September 2020 (4.00pm)

In response to COVID-19, many changes are taking place at a rapid pace.  This page provides links to relevant guidance, resources and information about changes to current processes in order to support the Scottish justice sector as it works together to help individuals, families and communities during this time of crisis.

For information about the  coronavirus legislation relating to justice in Scotland, please visit our legislation page.

We will continue to update it daily as far as is possible.  If you are aware of other items that should be added, please e-mail us:

Coronavirus Community Assistance Directory

If you’re an individual or organisation in need of support/able to support others in response to COVID-19, you can find or give help on this new website which SCVO has set up to collate offers and requests from across the country.  Organisations are encouraged to register what they can offer.


Health Protection Scotland Guidance for service providers

Health Protection Scotland has produced updated guidance for service providers:

Guidance for other settings is also available. The full set of Guidance can be found on the Health Protection Scotland website.

Scottish Drugs Forum Guidance

SHAAP Recommendations for Services

Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) has produced a set of recommendations (Updated 16th April 2020) for Alcohol and Drug Partnerships (ADPs), Commissioners, Alcohol Service Managers, Community Services and Mutual Aid and Support Groups, to enable them to reduce risks and ensure continued support for people with alcohol-related problems in the context of COVID-19.

Changes to processes and services

Changes to commissioning and procurement

The Scottish Government has  published a policy note which sets out guidance for public bodies on options for payment to their suppliers to ensure service continuity during the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak (26th March 2020).

COSLA and Scottish Government released joint statements on Commissioned Services and Funding for Social Care (24 March 2020).

COSLA has produced Guidance for Comissioners during the Covid-19 response (updated 17th April 2020).

Changes to health services

NHS Scotland has been placed on emergency footing and many aspect of non-urgent elective care will be postponed.  As we move through the Phases of the  Scottish Government’s phased variation to lockdown conditions, a wider range of health services will begin to resume.  On 31st May, NHS Scotland and the Scottish Government  published Re-Mobilise, Recover, Re-design: The Framework for NHS Scotland, which sets out how Health Boards will follow national and local clinical advice to safely and gradually prioritise the resumption of some paused services.

NHS Health Services Scotland is producing a COVID-19 Compendium with links to current national and international policy, guidance and resources from key organisations. The compendium is being updated daily during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wellbeing Hub

A digital National  Wellbeing Hub has been launched (11th May 2020) for health and social care staff, carers, volunteers and their families to access relevant support when they need it.  It provides a range of self-care and wellbeing resources designed to aid resilience as the whole workforce responds to the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Access to PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)

The UK Government has issued guidance in relation to COVID-19 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), updated 9th September 2020.

Local PPE Hubs have also been set up all over Scotland by Health and Social Care Partnerships to provide PPE to those providing social care support who need it.  As of 30th April 2020, Scottish Government are advising, “Local Hubs will also be in touch with providers, personal assistants and unpaid carers to let you know how to contact them. It may take them some time to do this as they are currently increasing their operations to be able to support the whole social care sector. In the meantime, therefore, the NHS National Services Scotland Social Care PPE Support Centre is helping out by taking calls on behalf of the Hubs.”

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice has also written to the Justice Committee clarifying the PPE guidance and arrangements for a range of justice settings, including for police, prisons and community justice services (letter sent 11th May).

COVID-19 in Prisons

The Scottish Prison Service have produced these pages to summarise their latest updates:

The Scottish Prison Service have now published their COVID-19 Route Map (June 2020), which sets out how the prison system will change as we move through the Phases of lockdown. The Route Map is accompanied by an executive summary and Physical Distancing Guidance.

Regular updates about COVID-19 and the procedures being put in place by the Scottish Prison Service can also be found on the Europris website.

In a letter to the Justice Committee on 7th April, the Cabinet Secretary set out some of the changes to normal prison routine and procedures that have taken place in response to the outbreak. This includes the suspension of:

  • Communal dining
  • Temporary absence, including Home Leave, Work Placements and Escorted Leave
  • Large group physical activity within gyms
  • All work parties not deemed as essential services to keep the prison running

These changes to normal processes are reflected in changes to the Prison Rules, which were introduced by Scottish Ministers on 7th April (you can find the un-amended Prison Rules here).  As a response to the current outbreak, these amendments to the prison rules change many of the duties and requirements placed on prison governors in relation to the people held in their prisons and relax timescales for some processes. The changes to the rules also allow prison governors to reduce or stop all work, education, counselling, purposeful activity and recreation activities.

Further details about the measures taken to-date are included in a letter from the SPS Interim Chief Executive to the Convener of the Justice Committee (17th April 2020).

On 28th April 2020, SPS published information on what the prison regime entails for those who are isolating, which sets out the steps they have taken and the procedures that are in place for those isolating (as of April 28th).


Number of Cases

Daily update: As of 1st September 2020, there are 10 individuals who are self-isolating across 6 establishments. 

Weekly update: From 11th May 2020, in addition to the daily updates on numbers self-isolating and confirmed cases across the prison estate, SPS is now publishing a weekly bulletin with details by establishment.

To-date, there have been six confirmed deaths of prisoners in Scottish prisons:


Prison Population

During COVID-19, the prison population has started to fall but has recently begun to rise again.  On 13th March 2020, the prison population in Scotland was 8,094.  By 4th September 2020, it was 7463. (source: SPS Prison Population Statistics).

The Scottish Prisoner Advocacy and Research Collective has produced this blog piece (dated 1st May 2020), looking at the change in prison population and factors influencing it.

The Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) has produced a briefing looking at the impact on prisoner numbers of measures taken in response to the coronavirus (published 11th May 2020).


Advice and Support for People in Prison

Advice and guidance has been sent to every prisoner via letters and in-cell TV messages and SPS have now published all the communications they have shared with people in prison here.

Additional steps have been taken to help people in prison and a letter from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice (dated 17th April 2020) states that this includes “the suspension of all TV rental fees and expanded in-cell entertainment options including the ability to purchase additional subscription services and electronic gaming solutions. A series of in-cell support material has been developed for those in SPS care by psychologists.” 

On 20th May, SPS announced that prisoner voicemail is now available in all prisons.  Further details are available on the SPS website.

On 3rd May 2020, the Cabinet Secretary for Health (Jeane Freeman) announced  new support for people who are in prison or about to leave prison. This includes:

    •  £150,000 to enhance residential rehabilitation services.   It will increase the number of residential places available, for people leaving prison.
    • Up to £1.9 million available to support people in prison, who need opiate substitution therapy (OST) – The funding will make a new treatment (Buvidal) – available to people in prison. buvidal is administered as a 7 or 28 day injectable dose, rather than daily.


Opiate Substitute Therapy (OST)

At present, approximately 25% of people in Scottish prisons receive a daily authorised Opiate Substitute Therapy (OST). In order to ensure continuity of OST, support social isolation and restricted movement within prisons and to support staff during the current pandemic, the Scottish Government, Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and partners have identified Buvidal as an alternative OST for use within prisons. Buvidal is available as a 7-day or 28-day injection, which would reduce administration and treatment episodes.  Health Boards and Integration Authorities are now being asked to transfer all prisoners currently on OST, serving a sentence of six months or longer, onto injections of Buvidal where this is clinically appropriate. On 1st May 2020, the interim Chief Medical Officer wrote a letter, outlining opiate substitution treatment in prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic. Accompanying Guidance for the use of Buvidal for opiate substitution treatment in prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic has also been developed (Published 1st May 2020).


Early Release of Prisoners

Under the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act and the Release of Prisoners (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Regulations 2020, laid before  the Scottish Parliament on 4th May 2020, the Scottish Government authorised the early release of 348 people in prison between 4th May 2020 and 1st June 2020.

Under the emergency legislation, only those people serving an 18 month or less sentence with 3 months left to serve of their sentence were eligible for early release. A number of categories prisoners were excluded from early release (such as those convicted of sexual offences or terrorism related offences) and prison governors were able to veto the release of prisoners they deemed to pose a risk of harm.  The Release of Prisoners (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 further extended these exclusions to include those serving sentences for domestic abuse offences, those with non-harassment orders or those convicted of certain COVID-19-related offences. Please see our page on COVID-19 related legislative developments for more detail on the Regulations.

The regulations were approved by the  COVID-19 Committee on 21st May 2020, after the Cabinet Secretary for Justice gave evidence about the regulations.  At the Committee meeting the Cabinet Secretary stated that the Scottish Government currently had no plans to bring forward any future legislation for the early release of people in prison. A copy of the papers, including the response submitted by CJVSF can be found here.  A copy of the meeting report is available here.

Prisoner releases began on 6th May 2020 and took place over 4 weeks in 3 tranches, ending on 1st June 2020. SPS have now published data on the three tranches of early releases.  In total 445 people were considered for early release. There were 348 people released early under the regulations,  63 uses of the Governor veto and 34 people released for other reasons.


Home Detention Curfew

The government announced in this letter to the Justice Committee (sent 10th April) that the presumption against Home Detention Curfew being granted to people who have committed certain offences (including those with an index offence involving an act of violence) will now no longer apply. Decisions will be made on a case by case basis following an assessment of available information on relevant risk factors. The letter states that this decision has been made in consultation with HMIPS and HMICS and was taken following the introduction of changes to HDC assessment practices and guidance and in light of challenges posed by the current COVID-19 outbreak.


Prison Staff

On 11th May, SPS began providing weekly updates on staff absence rates:

  • On Friday 31st July 2020, there were 489 members of staff absent across the SPS. This represents 11% of the total workforce.
  • In total 138 staff, 3.1% of the total workforce, are currently absent from their work specifically due to reasons related COVID-19.  This includes those who are symptomatic, self-isolating, shielding or caring for family members.

The Prison Officers Association Scotland and the SPS have now confirmed that one prison officer has died as a result of contracting the virus (reported 22nd April).


Visiting Prisons

As of 3rd August physical prison visits have resumed across the prison estate, having previously been suspended from 24th March. Visits have resumed subject to physical distancing procedures and a limited number of visitors per visit. Procedures and information on prison visits will vary by establishment and you can find full details for each prison and a Frequently Asked Questions document on the dedicated Information for Families and Friends page on the SPS Website.

Prison Visits are currently suspended for HMP Barlinnie (as of 2nd September 2020) and HMP Low Moss (as of 8th September 2020) – please see the SPS COVID Information Hub for more information.

Virtual visits are still open for booking across the prison estate and  you can find more information on the Information for Families page of the SPS website.  This includes a frequently asked questions document and a video setting out the process for virtual visits.

Restricted mobile phones are also being provided to people in custody to allow them to maintain family contact (28th April 2020) and have now been introduced across the prison estate.

From 26th March 2020 families of those in Scottish prisons can contact a new family helpline, set up to provide support and guidance. The number is 0131 330 3888 and it is available Monday – Friday, 9am-3pm.

Families Outside have been receiving a lot of calls and questions from families concerned about their loved ones in prison. They have therefore pulled together a list of Frequently Asked Questions around COVID-19 . A helpful guide to the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 and what it means for families affected by imprisonment is also available.

From 1st April 2020,  the SPS can accept money for prisoners transferred via an online banking facility, set up to support those in custody during the COVID 19 outbreak. This will provide a safe way of sending money to friends and family. Further details are available on the SPS website.


Update on Third Sector Partnership Working in Prisons

CJVSF and the Scottish Prison Service issued a letter to CJVSF members on 1st of April to update CJVSF members on the current situation regarding third sector work in prison and the processes put in place by SPS in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

As a result of the decision to suspend all prison visits (other than critical agent visits) any third sector organisation looking to maintain contact with someone in prison will need to do so through the “Email a Prisoner” system. Many prisons are now, however, allowing the phased return of third sector organisations as part of the SPS COVID-19 Route Map.

CJVSF will continue to act as a conduit for information for the third sector from SPS and will be able to raise any issues regarding prison working and COVID-19 with SPS on behalf of members. You can read the full letter here. 

SPS have also now produced a dedicated information page for partner organisations that sets out their current processes and information for external partners.


Changes to Housing Guidance for People Leaving Prison

Interim SHORE guidance has been developed by the prison service and the Scottish Government to support people to obtain appropriate housing on release from prison.  The interim guidance (updated 26th March 2020) is available to download here.

Our colleagues from the Housing Support Enabling Unit (HSEU) have developed a web page which provides updates on news and guidance relating to housing support and coronavirus.


Changes to DWP Processes

On release from prison, individuals should make their benefits claim online as soon as possible:

  • Input their claim online as soon as possible after release
  • They will be contacted to arrange an interview over the phone
  • Their personal details will be verified over the phone
  • They will be supported with applying for an advance.

If they don’t have access to or are not able to use a computer, they can call 0800 328 5644.

Further details are available here.

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) are regularly updating their web page with information about changes to benefits during Covid-19.


International Prison Response

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has published a statement of principles relating to the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty in the context of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic (20th March 2020).

The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a checklist to help policy-makers and prison administrators evaluate their level of preparedness for COVID-19 (7th May 2020).

WHO/Europe published guidance on how to deal with Coronavirus in prisons and other detention centres (15th March).

The World Prison Brief website is collating a list of news articles from around the world about COVID-19 and prisons.

WEPHREN are collating guidance and other resources on managing COVID-19 in prisons and places of detention from various countries and organisations.

The Centre for Justice Innovation are collating information about justice responses to Covid-19 around the world.

COVID-19 and Social Work

During the COVID-19 pandemic justice social work will continue to maintain critical services wherever possible. The Chief Social Work Adviser to the Scottish Government wrote to all Chief Social Work Officers on 19th March regarding business continuity and service prioritisation during the outbreak.

Social Work Scotland’s Justice Social Work Recovery Strategy Group have now published a COVID-19 Routemap (published 29th June 2020), which sets out the impact of COVID-19 and public health guidance on justice social work services, explores what this will mean as we move through the Scottish Government Phases, and shares practice that may help increase capacity.

A briefing to the Judicial Institute for Scotland (dated 1st April 2020) set out a helpful summary of the impact of COVID-19 on justice social work at the early stages lockdown and on 5th June 2020, Social Work Scotland wrote to the Clerk of the Justice Committee providing further detail about the impact of COVID-19 on justice social work.

On 7th April, Social Work Scotland and the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service reached agreement about how justice social work will operate in relation to court related matters.  The guidance can be read here.

Social Work Scotland have also created a dedicated COVID-19 page which you can find here.

Police Scotland

Police Scotland have produced this page setting out their response to the outbreak, which sets out the additional powers the police have been given to deal with COVID-19 and what this means for policing in Scotland. The page also contains a Frequently Asked Questions section.

On 6th May 2020, Police Scotland began publishing weekly data updates on key topics, including recorded crime, coronavirus legislation intervention activity and staff absences.


The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) began to reopen  courts and tribunals buildings during the week commencing 1st June, in line with Phase 1 of the Scottish Government’s Route map, and High Court Trials resumed subject to social distancing measures on 20th July.

Courts will continue to be closed to the public for some time and wherever possible SCTS will aim to carry out hearings remotely or through application in writing.  On 19th June 2020, Lord Carloway issued a statement on the impact of the Coronavirus situation upon Scotland’s courts and tribunals.

All updates and news related to COVID-19 can be found here on the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service Website.


The Parole Board for Scotland will continue to hold casework meetings, Tribunals and Oral Hearings. These will be conducted remotely by teleconference and/or Skype.  They have developed the following guidance to support the new processes:

On 21st May the Chief Executive of the Parole Board wrote to the Convener of the Justice Committee to provide an update on parole and the work of the Parole Board during the outbreak, informing the Convener that current processes allowed them to continue working without considerable impact on their capacity to process cases but that the current lack of progression activities in prison may mean that parole is granted in fewer cases in future. The Parole Board will be providing updates on its work here (updated 14th May 2020).

Changes to Legal Aid

The Scottish Legal Aid Board have introduced a number of new processes and guidance to deal with legal aid payments during the COVID-19 Outbreak. You can find all their updates and arrangements for the current crisis here.

Domestic Abuse

The Scottish Government has published Guidance on domestic abuse (published 11th May 2020)  to support the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020.  The Guidance is intended to highlight that the reference to escaping a risk of ‘harm’ includes escaping any form of domestic abuse.  Therefore, it is a reasonable excuse to leave your home in order to escape domestic abuse.

The Scottish Government, COSLA, Public Health Scotland and the Improvement Service have now issued additional guidance for local areas on protecting women and girls from violence during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Support for anyone experiencing domestic abuse is available by calling Scotland’s Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 027 1234 or visiting Safer.Scot.  Since domestic abuse is a crime, people should also call 101 to report it or 999 in an emergency.

Caledonian System

Community Justice Scotland have produced Guidance notes to help Caledonian System Managers to make the difficult decisions about how to prioritise work with domestic abusers and support and safety planning work with their partners and children.  Community Justice Scotland have also produced guidance for areas that do not have access to the Caledonian System. All the guidance notes are available to download from the CJS website (updated 19th and 27th March and 17th June 2020).

Changes to youth justice systems and practice

The Centre for Youth & Criminal Justice (CYCJ) has been reviewing the youth justice practice implications of Coronavirus. It has published a report that documents its analysis of the issues, and collates concerns and experiences shared with the CYCJ team by practitioners and managers working under unprecedented and challenging circumstances to support children and maintain their care, safety, health and wellbeing.

CYCJ have also set up a page which lists key organisations working with children and young people who are in conflict with the law, explaining how Covid-19 is affecting their services and the measures they are putting in place to best support people.

Children’s Hearings

The Scottish Government announced in its Scotland’s Route Map Through and Out of the Crisis (launched 21st May) that it intends to restart face-to-face Children’s Hearings as part of Phase 1.  On 22nd May, Children’s Hearings Scotland released a statement setting out how Children’s Hearings will adapt to Coronavirus lockdown easing plans.

During COVID-19, SCRA and CHS have continued operate, with lockdown restrictions in place, offices closed, and reduced capacity.

Children’s Hearing Scotland (CHS) and the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) provided an update on 21st April 2020.

A summary of the changes introduced to Children’s Hearing processes by the Act, can be found here. The following documents/websites offer further information:


Secure care

All five secure centres are working to maintain a normal service and keep to the daily routine wherever possible, including continuing with reduced education and support programmes. They are working with young people to ease their concerns and ensure they are able to stay safe and in contact with their families. Further details can be found in the Cabinet Secretary for Justice’s letter to the Justice Committee (dated 7th April 2020).

Each secure care unit is working on its own routemap, setting out how service delivery will adapt as Scotland moves through the various phased of recovery.   Further details about the secure care units during the pandemic can be found in this update from CYCJ (dated May 2020).

Guidance for Residential Childcare (including residential children’s houses, residential schools and secure care facilities) was published on 23rd April 2020.

Changes to Regulations and Inspections

Care Inspections

The Care Inspectorate is scaling down inspections during this time and putting in place arrangements which will involve gathering information, assessing the level of risk in care services and establishing assurances about the quality of care people experience.  They have revised their notification guidance and are only making visits to services when absolutely necessary. They have also introduced flexibility around registration practices and provided guidance on staffing.

Further details can be found on their dedicated COVID-19 page.

Prison Inspections

On 26th March 2020, HMIPS postponed all routine inspections and will carry out liaison visits on a risk assessed, essential visit basis only.   All independent prison monitoring duties were also suspended. Further details in this update from HMIPS (26th March 2020).

On 23rd April 2020, the Cabinet Secretary announced that HMIPS would be beginning remote inspections of prisons.  The “Remote monitoring framework” went live on 27th April 2020 and HMIPS have now produced a Remote Monitoring Framework and a Liaison Visits Framework (updated 5th May) and the report on their first inspection under the framework of HMP Edinburgh was published on 24th June 2020.


The SSSC have agreed regulatory changes with Scottish Government to enable an effective response from services and the emergency Coronavirus legislation includes changes to social care regulation.  Further details about these changes can be found here (updated 27th March 2020).

The SSSC have created a central COVID-19 resource page setting out all developments, updates and guidance related to the outbreak, which includes information on changes to registration, a frequently asked questions page, and information on fees and temporary registration.

Changes to PVG and Disclosure

Disclosure Scotland will prioritise checks for the staff and volunteers that Scotland needs to deal with the coronavirus and has suspended fees for these urgent disclosures until 25th December 2020.   They will prioritise roles in the sectors:

  • Healthcare
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Childcare
  • Social work
  • Social care
  • Prisons and justice
  • Early years, primary and secondary eduction.

They may prioritise other sectors during the outbreak when needed.

Further information, including the forms needed to apply for urgent disclosure, can be found on the Scottish Government’s website.

All qualifying voluntary organisations enrolled with Volunteer Scotland Disclosure Services (VSDS) should follow VSDS processes.

Information for third sector delivery organisations

COVID-19 Third Sector Hub

The Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations has set up a third sector information hub on COVID-19. It includes information about :

  • COVID-19 – Symptoms and how to prevent it spreading
  • Coronavirus Community Assistance Directory – A directory for organisations and individuals to share offers of and requests for assistance during the outbreak.
  • Funding – Response from funders and what funding is available
  • Employment/ HR – How to support and protect your staff, volunteers and beneficiaries
  • Governance and risk
  • Volunteering
  • Fundraising – Fundraising, events and trading
  • New Service Delivery Models
  • Remote working – Advice for those remote working
  • Resources – Links to official resources and information.

COVID-19 Helpline for Scottish Businesses

A helpline providing businesses across Scotland with advice and guidance on COVID-19 has been set up. The business helpline number is 0300 303 0660. The helpline will be open Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5.30pm.

Coronavirus legislation

Please see our separate Coronavirus legislation page, which provides a summary of the Coronavirus legislation relating to justice in Scotland.  This includes information about:

  • The Coronavirus Act 2020
  • The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020
  • The Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Bill
  • Related Scottish regulations
  • Guidance relating to the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020.