The parents of a student found dead in her cell at Polmont Young Offenders’ Institution have accused the prison authorities of obstructing changes needed to stop young people taking their own lives.
Katie Allan, 21, died at Polmont in June just months before the death of William Lindsay, 16, who killed himself within 48 hours of being remanded there in October – despite being flagged as a suicide risk.
Katie, a Glasgow University student, was jailed for 16 months in March last year for a hit-and-run crash while over the alcohol drink-drive limit.
Yesterday the Scottish Government said psychiatrist Dr Helen Smith would oversee an independent expert review of mental health provision for young people in custody.
The review will examine how information is shared with the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) by other agencies and will seek the views of young people with experience of having mental health needs while being held in custody.
While welcoming the scope of the review, Stuart and Linda Allan said that over the past decade, the SPS had “obstructed the radical change necessary” to stop young people tak
In a statement issued through their solicitor, the family said: “Despite the wide-ranging recommendations made by several inquiries over the last decade it is clear the Scottish Prison Service has obstructed the radical change necessary to stop young people like Katie And William Lindsay taking their own lives.
“Our contact with prisoners has highlighted their views of being labelled as at risk of suicide.
There is a reluctance to admit feelings of suicide as they will be placed in a suicide cell, stripped, provided with anti-ligature bedding and clothing, have all their personal belongings removed and be given finger food.
“In addition they will be checked at intervals either of 15 mins, 30 mins or 60 minutes, often by prison officers switching on a cell light. Prisoners treat such cells as ‘punishment cells’.”
The Allans have previously accused the SPS of mounting a “cover-up” to hide the number of suicides in custody.
The Scotsman revealed last year how vulnerable teenager William Lindsay killed himself days after being remanded. Mandatory fatal accident inquiries are being held in both cases.
Announcing details of the expert review yesterday, justice secretary Humza 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.
“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.”
An SPS spokesman said: “The Scottish Prison Service has invested extensively in developing Talk to Me, a strategy for helping those who have self harming or suicidal feelings.
“We have invested considerably in that and in other strategies to support those who come into our care.”