Ministers urged to take action over prison self-harm incidents

Ministers have been urged to take action after figures revealed there were more than 635 incidents involving self-harm in Scottish prisons last year.
HMP Barlinnie in GlasgowHMP Barlinnie in Glasgow
HMP Barlinnie in Glasgow

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur called on the SNP to put more mental health practitioners in prisons, accusing it of being "slow to act".

A Freedom of Information request by the Lib Dems revealed there were 495 incidents involving cutting in 2021, with 144 taking place in HMP Addiewell in West Lothian.

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Elsewhere, there were at least 103 episodes of self-harm by ligature and at least 25 incidents of self-harm by swallowing items.

The data does not include suicide attempts.

The figures show a significant increase in cases compared to 2017, when there were 493.

However, there were 658 incidents in both 2019 and 2020, and 704 in 2018.

Mr McArthur said: “These latest figures are deeply concerning, but hardly surprising in a prison estate that is bursting at the seams.

“The problem of self-harm in Scotland's prisons has been getting steadily worse over the years, but SNP ministers have been slow to act.

“While ministers talk a good game about delivering a more progressive agenda on justice, the reality on the ground is very different.

"Scotland locks up more of its population than anywhere else in Europe, remand levels are through the roof and rates of self-harm continue to rise.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats believe the government can start turning this situation around by basing more mental health professionals in our prisons.

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"We secured a commitment from ministers to deliver this important measure, but so far recruitment has been glacially slow."

Research shows people in custody are more likely to suffer from mental illnesses before their offence than the wider population.

They are also more likely to have a history of drug misuse.

Scottish Prison Service spokesman Tom Fox said the last couple of years had been "particularly challenging because of the pandemic".

He added: "The fact that the numbers have remained reasonably stable is a great tribute to the efforts that have been put in by staff in prisons and with our NHS colleagues working in prisons, to support people in custody."

Mr Fox added: "It's a perennial issue in prisons, and over the years a great deal of energy and effort has gone in to training staff to recognise signs of self-harm in advance and try to support those who are likely to manifest such behaviours."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The safe treatment and mental health of all those in custody is a key priority for Scotland’s prisons, which care for people with higher levels of risk and vulnerability than the general population as a whole.

“Our Mental Health Transition and Recovery Plan published in October 2020, backed by our £120m Recovery and Renewal Fund, made clear our commitment to continue to work with partners to seek better support for those with mental ill health within the criminal justice system, including prisons.

“Suicide prevention and self-harm policy are key areas of focus for the Scottish Prison Service in developing its Health and Wellbeing Strategy.

"This strategy is a Programme for Government commitment and work is underway in this area.”



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