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Scottish Government announces review of handling of prison deaths

Prison officer standing outside cells - Image credit: Michael Cooper/PA Wire/PA Images

Scottish Government announces review of handling of prison deaths

The handling of deaths in prisons in Scotland is to be examined in an independent review led by the chief inspector of prisons.

The review will look at ways to improve the arrangements that are put in place in the aftermath of deaths in Scottish prisons or deaths of prisoners in NHS care.

This includes the preservation of evidence as well as improved communication with relatives and support for those affected, including family members, Scottish Prison Service staff and NHS staff.

Led by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, the review will also draw on the expertise of Professor Nancy Loucks, chief executive of Families Outside, a national charity which works on behalf of families affected by imprisonment.

Evidence will also be taken from families affected by a death in prison as part of the investigation.

The review will examine the relevant operational policies, practice and training in place within the Scottish Prison Service and NHS.

It will also consider preventative approaches that could enable families to raise concerns regarding family members in prison.

The review is intended to complement current arrangements for the investigation of deaths in custody, including fatal accident inquiries, which are the responsibility of the Lord Advocate.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “The safe treatment and mental health of all those in custody is a priority for Scotland’s prisons, which care for people with higher levels of risk and vulnerability than the population as whole.

“My thoughts are with every family tragically bereaved by a death in prison custody and I fully understand the desire for answers following the death of a loved one.

“This review will inform improvements to ensure that all processes and communication with families are as open and transparent as possible.

“Scotland’s justice system is committed to protecting the human rights of all who pass through it and a fatal accident inquiry is mandatory following all deaths in custody.”

But the Scottish Liberal Democrats called for the review to be expanded to cover fatal accident inquiries due to concerns over long delays and the impact of the wait on families.

Lib Dem justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP commented: “Years go by without public scrutiny and lessons being learned.

“Fixing the broken FAI system is critical to this new review because these delays are putting more lives in danger in the meantime and re-traumatising families.

“Piecemeal reviews and tweaking of the law hasn't worked.

“That is why the Justice Secretary must let these experts look at this too.”

The review of handling of prison deaths is expected to report next summer.

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