SEVENTEEN prisoners from Fife have been released early under measures designed to tackle coronavirus.

The Scottish Government announced last month that up to 450 convicts serving short-term sentences and nearing the end of their time in custody would be considered.

There were 204 eligible prisoners in the first phase and 154 were released, including 17 from Fife. None showed any symptoms of the virus, which would have delayed their release.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “In this exceptional public health emergency, we are taking focused action to protect public safety as well as prisoners, prison staff and the NHS staff and others that work in our prisons.

“Using these emergency release powers, combined with increasing those on HDC (electronic monitoring) will substantially increase the availability of single-cell accommodation across the prison estate, which in turn will help the Scottish Prison Service contain the spread of coronavirus in our prisons.

"In addition, the resulting reduction in the prison population will allow the prison service to ease restrictions put on prisoners during these challenging times."

There were 21 prisoners from the Kingdom who were considered for early release but three were prevented by the governor's veto and the other was time-bound – there was insufficient time to consider their case.

A further 133 inmates in Scotland are eligible for release in the second phase, which concludes on Monday, and the third phase will consider early release for 108 prisoners between May 26 and June 1.

Those considered for early release are those convicted of 'lesser crimes' who would be due to get out soon in any case.

Prisoners who have been jailed for life or with convictions for sexual offences, domestic abuse or terrorism offences, are not eligible for the scheme.

Mr Yousaf had also said: "This is not a decision that I have taken lightly, and I want to assure the victims of crime that this does not diminish what they have suffered.

"In these exceptional circumstances, I must consider actions that best reduce the prospect of further harm both in prisons and the wider community of which they are part.”