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Exclusive: Scottish inmates not coronavirus tested before prison transfers

Prisoner in handcuffs.
Prisoner in handcuffs.

Prisons are not routinely testing inmates for coronavirus before transferring them to other jails across Scotland, it has been revealed.

The admission has triggered demands for tighter procedures amid concerns about the risk of spreading the virus between staff, prisoners, their families, and communities.

North-east Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald said he would write to the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) to call for routine testing, whether prisoners have symptoms or not.

Coronavirus outbreaks have been reported at several jails across Scotland in recent days, including HMP Grampian, HMP Kilmarnock and HMP Addiewell.

It emerged at the weekend that a wing at HMP Grampian in Peterhead had been forced into lockdown after an inmate developed symptoms.

coronavirus inmates
HMP Grampian.

Health Protection Scotland

Teresa Medhurst, interim SPS chief executive, admitted prisoners were moved without routine tests in response to parliamentary questions from Mr Macdonald.

She said: “In line with Health Protection Scotland guidance, individuals in custody are not routinely tested for Covid-19 prior to transfer to another establishment.”

She added: “Any individual who is confirmed as having Covid-19 would not be transferred until their isolation period has ended at the earliest.

“In addition, if an individual presents as symptomatic for Covid-19, they also would not be transferred until a test was conducted that produced a negative result, or their isolation period concluded.

“These measures have been put in place to mitigate risk of infection between establishments.”

Lewis Macdonald MSP wants inmates to be tested for coronavirus before being transferred.

‘At greater risk’

Mr Macdonald is believed to have raised the issue after being alerted to a concern about an HMP Grampian prisoner who had been temporarily moved to Barlinnie in Glasgow just a few weeks before release, meaning he would be forced to use public transport to get back to his family in Aberdeen.

The MSP, who is convener of Holyrood’s health committee, said: “Any group of adults living in a confined space are at greater risk of catching an infectious disease, as the recent outbreak of Covid at HMP Grampian demonstrates.

“I urge the prison authorities to agree that prisoners should be tested before transfer from one prison to another, or before release, in order to protect prison staff, prisoners, their families and the wider public.

“That is surely a simple step that can be taken to limit transmission of Covid at this challenging time.”

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