Response to deaths in prison custody in Scotland 'letting families down'

An independent body should carry out a separate independent investigation into every death in prison custody, a report has claimed.

The report of the Independent Review of the Response to Deaths in Prison Custody, published today said the response to deaths in prison custody in Scotland is letting families down and fails to provide bereaved relatives with a voice.

Calling for a wide-ranging set of systemic, practical and compassionate changes to radically improve how deaths in prison custody are responded to in Scotland, the report said investigations should be completed faster and families or next of kin of people who have died should be involved at every stage.

The study said an independent investigation should be instigated as soon as possible after the death and be completed within a matter of months by a body wholly independent of Scottish ministers, the Scottish Prison Service or the private prison operator and the NHS.

The Independent Review of the Response to Deaths in Prison Custody has called for reforms.

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Meanwhile, the process should involve the families or next of kin of those who have died in prison custody and must have regard to applicable human rights standards.

The review was advised by a family review group made up of people who had been bereaved by the death of a family member in custody.

Stewart Taylor, who chaired the Family Advisory Group, and his wife Liz Taylor, said: “Following the death of our son in prison, we were honoured to be asked to take part in the review as members of a family advisory group assembled to give input from people most directly affected by a death in custody.

“It quickly became abundantly clear that a system or uniform policy which clearly lays out procedures for dealing with such incidents across the prison estate in Scotland was either sadly lacking or not fit for purpose. Within our group, only one family thought the Prison Service had dealt with them in a compassionate and helpful way.”

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The independent review was co-chaired by Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, Professor Nancy Loucks, chief executive of the charity Families Outside, and Judith Robertson, chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission.

It was commissioned by former justice secretary Humza Yousaf in November 2019.

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Ms Sinclair-Gieben said: “In the time that this review has taken place, dozens of people have died in Scotland’s prisons and hundreds more have been left to deal with the associated grief, trauma and distress.

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"It is clear from our review that systemic change is needed in how such deaths are responded to for both families and staff.”

Prof Loucks said: “Bereavements are difficult at the best of times. Families told us that after the death of a loved one in prison custody, they are given very little information and even fewer answers.

“For too many families, the lack of information and answers drags on for months and even years.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said justice secretary Keith Brown would make a statement to the Scottish Parliament today.

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He said: “We remain committed to making improvements to the response to, and experiences of, families impacted by a death in prison custody.

"We welcome the work undertaken by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, Families Outside, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, and the families that informed the independent review.”

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