Lack of attention to mental health risks at Polmont Young Offenders Institute, report warns

Written by Peter Urpeth on 21 May 2019 in News

HMI Inspector of Prisons in Scotland warns youth custody system "increases the risk of suicide.”

Image credit: Open Aye

There was a lack of attention to the mental health needs, risks and vulnerabilities of people on remand and in custody at Polmont Young Offenders Institute (YOI), a new report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland (HMIPS) has found.

The HMICS’s review, requested by Cabinet Secretary for Justice Humza Yousaf in November 2018 following the deaths of Kate Allen and William Lindsay (Brown) at the YOI, also found shortcomings in communication and information exchange between justice agencies, which inhibited the management and care of young people entering and leaving custody. 

Releasing the report, HMI Inspector of Prisons in Scotland Wendy Sinclair-Gieben said the review also explored the wider issues of young people entering custody, but was not charged with considering the specific circumstances of individual cases.

The HMIPS report made seven key recommendations, including minimising social isolation for those newly on remand, improved risk management between agencies on young people entering and leaving custody, and the development by NHS Forth Valley and the Scottish Prison Service of a “bespoke suicide and self-harm strategy”.

The report found that many children and young people who had died in custody had significant interaction with community agencies before entering prison.

But the report warns “information about their history or changes in risk, whilst readily available, are not consistently and routinely shared at the acute point of vulnerability – on admission to prison”.

The report also found that many young people in custody regarded suicide and self-harm screening and procedures as “tick box exercises”, or interventions that exposed them to “further distress”.

In her statement, Sinclair-Gieben said: “What has become clear in the evidence review and accompanying academic research is that being traumatised, being young, being held on remand and being in the first three months of custody increases the risk of suicide.”

Yousaf said: “We take the mental wellbeing of people in prison very seriously and while the numbers of suicides by young people in custody are small, no death should be regarded as inevitable. Any suicide in custody is a tragedy that has a profound effect on family and friends, as well as prison staff, and my thoughts are with all those who have lost loved ones to suicide.

“Both the mental health review and routine inspection report highlight the hard work, compassion and dedication of frontline prison and healthcare staff who provide opportunities and support to young people in custody every single day. That dedication is clearly evidenced in the Chief Inspector’s finding that Polmont is a ‘leading edge’ prison where there are respectful relationships between staff and the people in its care and an impressive range of support offered to young people. 

“The Scottish Prison Service and NHS partners have undertaken a range of actions in recent months to improve support and it remains a priority for me to work with other Government ministers and responsible agencies to agree detailed actions in response to this independent review.

“The review recommendations are comprehensive and wide-ranging. We will consider with the SPS, NHS and other partners further immediate actions in light of the review to improve the support and care for young people in custody as well as reflecting fully on the wider strategic recommendations in the report.  We will provide an update to Parliament before recess.”

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