Supporting young people in custody

Mental health expert to work with prisons inspectorate on review.

A leading Consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist is to oversee the independent expert review of mental health and wellbeing support for young people in custody.

Consultant Forensic Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Dr Helen Smith will work closely with the HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland and others to review support for young people in HM Prison & Young Offenders Institution Polmont.

The review is one of the actions across government which aims to improve support for vulnerable children and young people.

Dr Smith, who is also clinical lead for West of Scotland Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service and Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer at the University of Glasgow, brings extensive experience of work to improve the mental health of young people in secure care.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has also announced the scope and terms of reference of the review, in a letter to the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Justice Committees.

The review will consider arrangements including:

  • The background information available to the Scottish Prison Service ahead of admission
  • Reception arrangements on entry
  • Ongoing support and supervision while in custody.

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.

“Any death by suicide is tragic and the impact on family and friends is unimaginable for most of us. We have made both suicide prevention and reforming young people’s mental health key priorities with a significant focus on early intervention. Some of this will be achieved through the Children and Young People’s Taskforce, led by Denise Coia, and the Suicide Prevention Leadership Group, chaired by Rose Fitzpatrick. However, it is imperative that we take a focused approach to addressing concerns that have been raised about support for young people in custody. This Expert Review will provide that.”

Dr Helen Smith said:

“I’m looking forward to working with HMP&YOI Polmont and NHS Forth Valley to examine the support given to vulnerable young people at a very difficult time in their lives. This opportunity also allows me to consider whether any lessons can be transferred between Secure Care, the Scottish Prison Service and other relevant agencies.”

The text of the letter to the Justice Committee is as follows:

Dear Convenor,


Further to my letter of 23 November informing Committee Members that I had instructed Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons (HMIPS) to work with a mental health expert to undertake a review of the provision of mental health services and support for young people entering and in custody at HMP&YOI Polmont, I am writing to update you on progress.

A range of work has been taken forward since the announcement, including the confirmation of Dr Helen Smith (Consultant Forensic Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, who is the clinical lead for West of Scotland CAMHS and Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer at the University of Glasgow) by HMIPS as the mental health expert for the review. Dr Smith has extensive experience of working with young people with mental health and wellbeing issues, including within the care and justice systems.

A short life working group has also been established to support the review, including representation from social work, the Children’s Reporter Administration; Healthcare Improvement Scotland and the third sector including Barnardo’s Scotland and the Scottish Association for Mental Health. The review will also draw directly on the views and lived experiences of staff, young people and their families. The review will continue to involve a number of cross-Governmental Ministerial portfolios and I attach the Terms of Reference for the review which have been agreed by all relevant portfolio Ministers.

HMIPS will present the findings of the review to Ministers in Spring 2019 around the same time as the publication of the routine inspection findings of HMP&YOI Polmont undertaken on 29 October -1 November 2018. Scottish Ministers, special advisers and the Permanent Secretary are covered by the terms of the Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016. See St Andrew’s House, Regent Road, Edinburgh EH1 3DG  

My officials and I will continue to work in close collaboration with the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport and Ministers for Mental Health and Childcare and Young People and relevant officials to ensure lessons are drawn across the relevant work already underway in mental health provision and support, suicide prevention and in youth justice, including the work of the National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group and the joint Scottish Government and COSLA Taskforce on Children and Young People’s Mental Health. Links will also be made to the current independent Care Review, which is working to deliver lasting change to the care system.

I trust this information is helpful.



The scope and terms of reference can be accessed via the attached link.

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