Leading psychiatrist appointed to review mental health support for young prisoners

A leading psychiatrist has been appointed to oversee an independent review of the mental health support services available to young people behind bars.

Consultant forensic child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Helen Smith will oversee work examining the care of young people who are detained at Polmont Prison and Young Offenders Institution.

The parents of a 21-year-old woman who took her own life at Polmont welcomed the move as an “important first step”.

But Linda and Stuart Allan insisted they also want to see longer term plans for the inspection of prisons across Scotland.

The Scottish Government ordered a review of mental health services for young people in custody following the death of Katie Allan and 16-year-old William Lindsay, who took his own life at Polmont 48 hours after being sent there on remand.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf announced this will look into a range of matters, including the background information given to prison service staff ahead of a young person being admitted to custody.

It will also consider the reception procedures when someone arrives at Polmont, and the ongoing support and supervision available there.

Mr Yousaf said: “This review will focus specifically on young people in custody and will draw directly on the views and lived experiences of staff, young people and their families at Polmont.

“It will require a wide-ranging approach with a specific understanding of the particular difficulties faced by young people, so I am pleased that Dr Smith, with her considerable experience and knowledge, has been appointed to provide expert counsel.”

He stressed that “any death by suicide is tragic and the impact on family and friends is unimaginable for most of us”.

While there are other Government initiatives working to cut suicide rates and improve mental health, Mr Yousaf said it is “imperative that we take a focused approach to addressing concerns that have been raised about support for young people in custody”.

The Justice Secretary met Ms Allan’s parents in November, five months after she died while serving a sentence at Polmont.

Lawyer Aamer Anwar, who is acting for the parents of Ms Allan and Mr Lindsay’s mother, said: “There was nothing inevitable about William and Katie taking their own lives, it was clear to anybody that cared to look that they were vulnerable and at risk of taking their own lives.

“Today is an important step forward in ensuring a legacy of Katie Allan, William Lindsay, and all those whose cries for help went unheard.

“Katie’s parents welcome today’s wide-ranging review of mental health provision for young people in prison custody, as a response to our meeting with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice on November 13 last year.

“At that meeting over 15 points of action for Scottish prisons were presented to him and several of those have been taken on board.

“But the family also want to hear about longer term plans on inspection of prisons across Scotland.”

Mr Anwar added the Allans believe “radical change” is necessary to “stop young people like Katie and William Lindsay taking their own lives”.

Dr Smith, the clinical lead for West of Scotland Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services who is also an honorary senior clinical lecturer at the University of Glasgow, said she is “looking forward” to working with both Polmont and the local health board NHS Forth Valley “to examine the support given to vulnerable young people at a very difficult time in their lives”.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Andrew Milligan / PA Wire.