Concern as attempted suicides in Scottish prisons soar by over 50%
Herald Scotland, by Paul Hutcheon
The number of prisoners who have tried to commit suicide has increased by over half in a year, fuelling concerns about the quality of mental health services for inmates.
In the Young Offenders Institution (YOI) at Polmont, the figure has risen from two to 11 in one year – a near six fold increase.
Alan Staff, the chief executive of Apex Scotland, a charity that supports offenders, said: “The percentage of those coming into the criminal justice system with definable mental health problems is well documented and represents well over half of the total at a conservative estimate.
“Yet our current justice system is poorly positioned either inside or outside prison, to provide an effective service for them.”
Of Scotland’s fifteen prisons, thirteen are run by the public sector and two – Kilmarnock and Addiewell – are operated privately.
As of September 2016, 7652 prisoners were in custody, the majority of whom are “sentenced male adults”.
A huge number of prisoners have complex mental health problems, including addictions, depression and low self-esteem.
Between January and December 2014, 35 prisoners tried to take their own lives while incarcerated.
However, the equivalent figure for 2015 was 54 – an increase of around 51%.
Part of the rise is accounted for at the Barlinnie jail in Glasgow, which in 2011 was criticised for overcrowding.
No attempted suicides were reported at the prison in 2014, but there were 9 cases last year and ten so far between January and July this year.
Polmont, which caters for young offenders between 16 and 21, has had 12 attempted suicides in the last eighteen months.
Her Majesty’s Prison in Grampian had none in 2014, but recorded four last year and the same number in the first six months of this year.
Kilmarnock also saw a rise, from one to five, in the space of twelve months.
However, other prisons – such as Addiewell, Glenochil and Shotts – saw a reduction.
Statistics have also been released showing the number of prisoners on the SPS ACT2Care programme, which individuals are placed on if they are deemed to be a risk.
This includes those believed to be suicidal, as well as self-harming prisoners.
In 2013/2014, 1836 prisoners were recorded as being on the scheme, but in the last financial year it was 1940.
Deaths in prison are also recorded, but it is not possible to produce a meaningful year-on-year comparison for suicide due to ongoing Fatal Accident Inquiries.
Staff said: “Whilst the rising numbers of attempted suicides in Scottish prisons is obviously bad news, it should be seen in context with a more general worrying trend of increasing levels of self-harming behaviour.
“There is no doubt that prison environments can be a toxic and psychologically destabilising experience, and the prevalence of self- harming in community inevitably finds more extreme expression within prison settings. "The solutions to this are well known and evidenced, but have been slow to be adopted in the UK as opposed to Scandinavian and Continental models.”
David Strang, the Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, said: “I see many people in prisons in Scotland who are suffering mental ill-health. In general, our inspections find that the multi-disciplinary mental health teams operating in each prison provide positive support for people who are at risk of self-harm.
“We have reported occasions when someone in prison should have been transferred to a psychiatric hospital, but whose transfer was delayed due to a lack of suitable beds in the community. Prison is not the right place to treat serious psychiatric conditions.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Prison Service said: “ACT2Care provides an improved person centred care approach to suicide risk management in our prisons. The spirit of ACT2CARE does not always lead to an act of or intent to attempt suicide and may be simply an episode of self-harm or low mood with no intention to attempt suicide.”