Mental health services for Young People entering and in custody at HMP and YOI Polmont: ministerial statement

Cabinet Secretary for Justice Humza Yousaf's response to the independent review of mental health support for young people in custody.

Thank you Presiding Officer,

Last November I asked Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland to carry out an expert review of the mental health support  for young people in custody following the tragic deaths by suicide of Katie Allan and William Lindsay / Brown at HMYOI Polmont last year.

I would like to take this opportunity once again to offer my sincere condolences to their families and to all those who have lost loved ones to suicide. Every death of a young person is undoubtedly a tragedy, for them, their families and their friends, but also for Scottish society more widely, that has lost the opportunity of their talent and potential contribution.

The purpose of this review was to consider the arrangements for young people with mental health and wellbeing needs entering and in custody.

A Fatal Accident Inquiry is mandatory whenever someone has died in legal custody and in the cases of Katie Allan and William Lindsay / Brown the Crown Office is undertaking independent investigations in advance of mandatory fatal accident inquiries. It was therefore not the purpose of the review, to investigate the specific circumstances surrounding either of those deaths.

The Inspector of Prosecutions in Scotland is currently undertaking a follow-up review of the thematic report on FAIs that was published in August 2016. At the Lord Advocate’s request, this follow up review will consider the scope and merits of prioritising the death investigation process when a young person dies in custody. The follow up report is due to be submitted to the Lord Advocate this summer.

Separately, the Scottish Prison Service are considering what more can be done to improve the transparency of information about apparent suicides in Scotland’s prisons, pending formal determination by an FAI.

Clearly, however, our priority must be to aim to prevent, as far as possible, the circumstances that can give rise to the risk of suicide in prison.

I am very grateful for Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons and to Dr Helen Smith, who have worked with her to oversee the review, for the comprehensive and robust work they have carried out.

Both the mental health review and routine inspection report of Polmont recognise the good work at Polmont and highlight the hard work, compassion and dedication of frontline prison and healthcare staff.

I am very grateful to the management and staff at Polmont for the open and constructive way in which they have engaged with the review and also informed its recommendations.

The review by the Chief Inspector and Dr Helen Smith is comprehensive and is wide ranging.  The review makes some important and challenging findings, highlighting the heightened vulnerability of young people on remand and those in early days of custody; the damaging impact of social isolation; and the vital importance of good information sharing between agencies, and many more issues.

Can I put on record my own appreciation for the staff at Polmont, the overwhelming majority of whom I know care very much about the young people they work with. There are positives in both the inspection and the expert review, however Presiding Officer, as you would expect I intend to focus my remarks on the areas of challenge and improvement.

An Action Group including relevant officials from across Scottish Government, the Scottish Prison Service and the NHS has been convened to oversee progress across the numerous review recommendations.  Some of the recommendations will be taken forward under existing Scottish Government strategies.

When I met with the parents of Katie Allan in November last year, I stated my commitment to respond to the concerns raised by the tragic deaths of both Katie and William. On Monday I wrote to both  families to offer to meet with them. I very much hope to have that opportunity to discuss the findings of the review with them and will value their input as we take forward our own response. It is clear from the review that the necessary actions extend beyond Polmont. 

In terms of turning to some of the recommendations in the expert review Presiding Officer, no one going through the justice system should be harmed by the failure of agencies to fully share information with one another where data protection legislation allows it.

The Health and Justice Collaboration Improvement Board, which draws together senior leaders from health and social care, justice and local government, is exploring how public bodies can make sure that decisions are as fully informed as possible. That Board is mapping the flows of information in the health and justice system. Ministers will work with partner agencies to build on that work in order to consider and take forward actions in response to the recommendations including what immediate actions we can take to improve information sharing between the different agencies supporting the care of young people entering and in Polmont.

The Scottish Prison Service have confirmed that they will develop a new health and wellbeing strategy. This will include a bespoke mental health strategy for young people.

The review found that “Talk To Me”, the SPS suicide prevention strategy is, to quote, “robust” and generally followed well at Polmont. That strategy, which is relevant when the risk of suicide is deemed to be immediate, is overseen by the National Suicide Prevention Risk Management Group (NSPMG) which includes representatives from expert partners including Samaritans, Breathing Space and Families Outside. The review makes a number of recommendations relevant to the Talk to Me strategy and the Scottish Prison Service will work with that group to consider those and ensure that their approach to suicide prevention for young people is effective, including the approach for people coming off of Talk to Me.

The National Group is also developing a self-harm policy and will oversee work to consider lessons from the use of “safer” spaces in different settings, including secure care, which may allow “safer” environments to be more supportive and less sterile.

Work to address the recommendations which relate to staffing and training and support for staff at Polmont are well underway.

In terms of mental health staffing in prisons, we have committed through Action 15 in our Mental Health Strategy to increase access to the overall mental health workforce by 800 additional staff. This will be supported by investment rising to £35 million by 2021-22. This month the Minister for Mental Health has written to all Chief Officers of Integrated Joint Boards and Chief Executives of NHS Boards to highlight the importance of recruiting additional mental health workers in prisons under this commitment and asking them for details of how they will plan recruitment for this financial year.

The review report highlights that those who are young and in the early stages of custody are especially vulnerable to suicide.  Everyone entering prison is assessed for their risk of suicide. Inspectors were impressed by many aspects of the interactive induction at Polmont, highlighting the compassion of staff undertaking admission and the role of peer mentors.

We know that the time people currently spend on remand is largely unproductive. This review underlines how potentially damaging periods spent on remand can be for individuals. The number of young people, aged under 21 years old, held on remand in Scotland has fallen by a quarter over the past 5 years. However, we will continue to work to ensure alternatives to remand are available for young people and to support those young people held on remand.

The issue of body searches as part of the regime within prisons was highlighted by the family of Katie Allan in particular.  I can confirm today that as a priority, SPS will stop the routine body searching of under 18s in custody. The Scottish Prison Service will evaluate the impact of these changes after a year. In line with the development of the new female custodial estate, SPS will adopt a more trauma informed approach to its searching process for women.

Supporting positive family contact throughout someone’s time in prison has wide ranging benefits for that individual and their family - it reducines the risk of re-offending and supports positive relationships, which contributes to good mental health and mitigate vulnerability.

With a view to supporting that, I can confirm that I have asked the Scottish Prison Service to explore the options for implementing a pilot of in-cell phones across HMYOI Polmont, with necessary controls, of course, in place.

At present, prisoners in Scotland can access telephones in communal areas at certain times only. In cell phones have the potential to contribute to prisoners’ wellbeing by making family contact significantly easier. They also have the benefit of improving access to national helpline services and technology can offer the potential to develop telehealth services and supports for well-being in prisons. We will explore the options available as we take forward a pilot but we will ensure that the prison service retains control over the phone numbers prisoners can access and the ability to monitor calls.

In terms of monitoring our progress, we remain committed to improving outcomes for young people in the community and of course in custody.  I, along with relevant ministerial colleagues, will hold a roundtable with key partner agencies before the end of the year to review our progress.

It should not take tragedies like the deaths of Katie Allan and William Lindsay for services to improve. I am deeply saddened by what happened to those two young people and by any life that is lost in our care.  We know that young people who commit offences and become involved in the criminal justice system are  also often the young people who have experienced multiple trauma and those who are the most vulnerable.  It is our duty to ensure we do everything possible to help them rehabilitate where necessary and vitally, to keep them safe from harm during the time they are in our care.

The expert review is substantial and we will work on the many recommendations contained therein. Our ultimate aim is to oversee the continued fall in the numbers of young people entering our criminal justice system. As a progressive society it is important we have transparency, we have a trauma-informed approach,  but above all Presiding Officer, a compassionate justice system that understands the often complex reasons why people end up in prison, and believes in their ability to rehabilitate.

I will endeavour to keep Parliament updated on our response to the expert review.


Central enquiry unit:

Back to top