SCOTLAND’S prison service has been urged to do more to detect early warning signs of mental ill health among prisoners after it was revealed there have been 28 apparent suicides in the country’s jails over the past three years.
Official Scottish Prison Service (SPS) figures collated by the Scottish Liberal Democrats showed there were 13 apparent suicides in 2010/11, eight in 2011/12, and seven in 2012/13.
All but one of these were male prisoners, and only two of the total of 28 were placed on the SPS’s suicide prevention strategy, ACT 2 care.
Before a death in custody can be formally recorded as suicide, a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) must be held, in accordance with the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1976 (FAI) to legally determine the cause of death.
Of the 28 apparent suicides, eight have been legally determined by FAIs.
Figures also showed there had been 61 attempted suicide incidents over the same three-year period.
‘Staff must identify warning signs’
Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said: “Every suicide in prison is one too many.
“These people are paying penance for their crimes but they are still someone’s brother, uncle, daughter or son.
“The Scottish Prison Service must ensure that staff are able to identify the early warning signs.
“I am particularly worried that of the 28 apparent suicides, only two prisoners were on the prisons suicide prevention programme.
“Our prison staff are highly trained but their demanding job is made all the more difficult by overcrowding in Scotland’s prisons.
“With the prison population at its highest ever there are real concerns that this is affecting prisoner care.
“Amongst those who attempted suicide, some of those prisoners were still not placed on the suicide prevention programme.
“If we want to build a fairer society which puts a premium on effective rehabilitation, it is clear that much more needs to be done to tackle the number of suicides in Scotland’s prisons.”
Government ‘treat suicide seriously’
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Delivery of health services for prisoners transferred from the Scottish Prison Service to the NHS in 2011.
“However, SPS staff are trained to identify those at risk of suicide and prison staff continue to work with the health service to ensure that vulnerable people are given the help they need.”
An SPS spokeswoman said: “The SPS invests extensively in training our staff in risk management and ACT 2 Care.
“We treat suicide very seriously.
“Healthcare is the responsibility of the NHS however we work very closely with the health service and other partner organisations to ensure a multi-agency approach in managing very vulnerable individuals with complex needs.
“We completely agree one suicide in prison is one too many, and we would be happy to discuss concerns with any member of the Scottish Parliament.”