THE impact of coronavirus on Scotland’s prisons is a “disaster waiting to happen”, according to an expert group.

The Scottish Prisoner Advocacy & Research Collective (SPARC) says our crowded jails are creating the “perfect” conditions for the rapid spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus – which has claimed the lives of six people in Scotland, with a 322 infected.

It also fears that any self-isolating and a reduction in family ­visits could cause “dangerous” consequences – including the ­potential for riots – warning that “a prison sentence should not be a death sentence”.

On Thursday, the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) revealed two prisoners at HMP Kilmarnock have tested positive for the virus. It is receiving support from NHS Ayrshire and Arran.

The SPS has since confirmed to the Glasgow Times that no prisoners within Barlinnie have tested positive – meanwhile 50 inmates are self-isolating with symptoms across 12 sites.

Glasgow Times:

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They are having to self-isolate in their cell for seven days.

The prison service has said that “robust pandemic plans” are in place and are in “regular communication with those in our care to provide guidance on how to prevent the spread of infection” – but SPARC believes this is “too late, too vague”.

SPARC refers to a report from 2018 which found people living in HMP Barlinnie in Riddrie had less than 3sq m of living space – adding “conditions in the cells in Barlinnie, especially in the Admissions Unit, were described as dirty and cramped”.

It says those in prison are “especially at risk of worse outcomes of COVID-19” due to their “poorer physical health than the general population”.

Glasgow Times:

SPARC added: “Recent research emphasised that less isolation and more access to family were crucial for the wellbeing of young people in custody, but both of these are likely to be highly limited in the current context. With the likelihood of reduced or cancelled ­visits, this is hugely concerning and dangerous.

“Family visits are precious, and both the direct and indirect ­impact of limiting these can be significant.

“In Italy, when significant ­restrictions were placed on visits as part of measures to limit the spread of coronavirus, this ­contributed to riots within the prisons, which resulted in the death of 12 people.

“The risk of instability inside the prison is yet another concern for those in prison and their ­families.”

Glasgow Times:

The expert group also warned that the SPS is “not well-equipped’ to manage staff-shortages as a result of self-isolation and sickness.

They have now listed out a set of demands in order to reduce the threat to prisoners during the current pandemic.

That includes a “clear and detailed” statement from the SPS on their COVID-19 policy, which should be communicated “immediately to all staff and all imprisoned people and their families.”

The ban on mobile phones should also be lifted, says SPARC, to allow for greater communication with loved ones during isolation – as well as the ability to make ­video calls to families.

A Scottish Prison Service spokeswomen said: “The safety and wellbeing of those living and working in our establishments is a priority for the Scottish Prison Service.

“SPS is following the advice of Health Protection Scotland and clinically-led protocols for the management and care of those who contract COVID-19 are in place.

“Advice and guidance about steps which should be taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have already been issued to staff and those in our care.

“To date there have been two confirmed cases of COVID-19 at HMP Kilmarnock. A further 50 residents are symptomatic across 12 sites.

“At this time there are no restrictions on movement in place therefore establishments are continuing to operate visits as normal.

“Anyone within our care who is presenting with symptoms of COVID-19 is required to self-isolate within their cell for seven days.

“Those who are self-isolating still have access to food and medication and we are working on ways to maintain communication with friends and family.”