Call for action on ‘spiralling epidemic’ of suicides in Scotland’s prisons
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has been urged to take action to halt the “spiralling epidemic” of suicides in Scotland’s prisons.
The plea came after Mr Yousaf held talks with the parents of a young woman who took her own life while serving a sentence in Polmont Young Offenders Institution.
Four months after the death of Katie Allan, 21, in June, another inmate, 16-year-old William Brown – also known as William Lindsay – killed himself just 48 hours after being sent there on remand.
Mr Anwar claimed there could be as many as 12 suicides in Scottish jails this year, adding this would represent the “worst rate of suicides for over a decade”.
The lawyer, together with Mr and Mrs Allan (pictured), demanded an immediate inspection of the young offenders institution at Polmont.
They also want a review of suicides in Scottish prisons and of mental health provision.
Mr Anwar said while 26 deaths have been recorded behind bars in 2018, only one had been formally noted a suicide.
He said: “We heard today that half of the deaths so far they believe are in relation to natural causes.
“That means approximately 12 deaths in Scottish prisons are potentially suicides.
“We are not at the end of the year. If that is the case then this is the worst rate of suicides for over a decade.”
The lawyer claimed the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) “system of recording deaths in prison hides the spiralling epidemic of suicides in our prisons”.
He said: “They clearly haven’t learned lessons, William Lindsay should be alive today, he should not have died.
“The care system failed him, the police failed him, the criminal justice system failed him, but ultimately Polmont Prison that should have learned lessons after the death of Katie Allan failed miserably.”
Mr Anwar said neither the Crown Office nor the SPS had “bothered” to contact Mr Lindsay’s mother, Christine, following his death.
“Locking people up in dungeons of despair doesn’t rehabilitate anyone,” the lawyer said.
“The families of Katie Allan and William Lindsay hold the Scottish Prison Service, the health service and the care system directly responsible for their deaths, and they will fight to ensure other lives can be saved.”
Mr Allan said: “It’s so important that people who go into the care system and people who go into prison, they are treated with respect and humanity.
“We have witnessed what happened to Katie, we don’t want that to happen to anybody else.”
He said the family had used the talks with Mr Yousaf to highlight the “catastrophic failings within the criminal justice system”.
He added: “We wanted to make clear to Mr Yousaf that the tragic experiences Katie endured within the Scottish Prison Service are not unique to Katie.
“You only have to look at the recent tragic death of 16-year-old William Lindsay, who spent his life in and out of care, only to end up taking his own life whilst in Polmont prison within 48 hours of being placed on remand.
“The long list of failings which has led to Katie, William and many others taking their own lives under the care of the Scottish Prison Service and in particular Polmont prison is simply unacceptable and should not be allowed to continue any longer.”
Mr Allan concluded: “We believe what we are trying to do in Katie’s memory for her and so many others will be a fitting legacy for our daughter.”
The Justice Secretary was also questioned on the deaths by MSPs.
He told them he was “aware of concerns raised through recent cases around the mental health provision in HMP Polmont”.
Mr Yousaf said: “Any death of a young person is a tragedy for the individual and their family.
“As with any death in custody, there will of course be a mandatory fatal accident inquiry.
“However, I am determined that appropriate early actions are taken to ensure the safety and well-being of young people in custody.”
He added: “We are determined as a government to ensure that we are taking a cross-government approach to the support that young people have when they are within the criminal justice system but importantly the preventative measures we put in place to stop them from getting into the criminal justice system in the first place.”
An SPS spokesman rejected claims the way deaths are recorded masked the number of suicides.
He said: “We don’t describe the circumstances of any deaths in custody, we publish that a death in custody has occurred immediately after the next of kin have been informed.”
All deaths in prison are subject to an FAI, with the spokesman saying one death this year had been confirmed as a suicide because an inquiry had taken place.
Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Andrew Milligan / PA Wire.