Cell phones could be piloted at Polmont
19 June 2019, 14:29 | Updated: 19 June 2019, 14:30
The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) has been asked to explore the options for in-cell phones at HMYOI Polmont following the deaths of Katie Allan and William Lindsay while in custody there.
In a statement at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said introducing such technology could help to support the well-being of prisoners by making family contact significantly easier.
Mr Yousaf's comments came in response to publication of the Expert Review of Mental Health Services for Young People Entering and in Custody at HMP and YOI Polmont.
The review was called after Katie Allan, 21, took her life while at the prison in June 2018.
Another inmate, 16-year-old William Brown - also known as William Lindsay - killed himself just 48 hours after being sent there on remand four months after the death of Ms Allan.
Last month, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland Wendy Sinclair-Gieben told MSPs on Holyrood's Justice Committee that young offenders should be allowed to make phone calls from their cells to increase the support available to them when they are distressed.
At present, prisoners in Scotland can access telephones in communal areas at certain times only.
It has been suggested such technology could consist of cordless phones being installed in cells that would require offenders to dial in their PIN before they are able to make a call to numbers that have been agreed upon for them to use.
Mr Yousaf also confirmed SPS would commit to developing a new mental health strategy, which will include a bespoke plan for young people.
The Justice Secretary said routine body searches of those under the age of 18 would also be stopped as a matter of priority by SPS.
Mr Yousaf said: "Supporting positive family contact throughout someone's time in prison has wide-ranging benefits for that individual and their family, reducing the risk of reoffending and supporting positive relationships, which contribute to good mental health and mitigate vulnerability.
"With a view to supporting that, I can confirm that I have asked the Scottish Prison Service to explore the options for implementing a pilot of in-cell phones across HMYOI Polmont, with necessary controls in place.
"We will explore the options available as we take forward a pilot but we will ensure that the prison service retains control over the phone numbers prisoners can access and the ability to monitor calls."
He added: "It should not take tragedies like the deaths of Katie Allan and William Lindsay for services to improve.
"I am deeply saddened by what happened to those two young people and by any life lost in our care.
"We know that young people who commit offences and become involved in the criminal justice system are also often the young people who have experienced multiple trauma and those who are the most vulnerable.
"It is our duty to ensure we do everything possible to help them rehabilitate where necessary and vitally, to keep them safe from harm during the time they are in our care."