The stories of Katie Allan and William Lindsay, both of whom took their own lives in Polmont young offenders’ institute, must shame the justice system in Scotland into action, writes Brian Wilson.
Their backgrounds were very different. Ms Allan made one mistake – driving while over the limit, thereby causing injury to another person for which offence she was sentenced to 16 months in jail.
Wiliam Lindsay had spent most of his young life in care, going from pillar to post, before being remanded to Polmont for a variety of misdemeanours. Classically, his case cried out for humane intervention which was strongly signaled to Polmont before his arrival.
Apart from ending up in Polmont, the two had one thing in common. Both had known tendencies towards self-harm and should not have been cast into the conditions they experienced without regard for their individual well-being or protection.
Scotland once had claims to lead Europe on aspects of penal policy at both ends of the spectrum. Is it conceivable that anything remotely as imaginative as the Special Unit at Barlinnie Prison could happen today? We have far more politicians but much less political courage.
In the 1960s, humane ministers introduced Children’s Hearings, based on the principle of supporting youngsters with problems rather than inflicting punishment upon them. How can that philosophy be reconciled with the awful story of William Lindsay?
Nearly half a century ago, a report by Lord Kilbrandon led to the Children’s Hearings system. Instead of trusting in political soundbites, maybe the time has come for a review of similar standing into why Scotland locks up so many people, how we treat them thereafter and what good it does.