Polmont culture led to "unnecessary deaths", says family of inmate
26 June 2019, 16:14
The parents of a woman who killed herself in Polmont have said the culture at the young offenders institution has "led to unnecessary deaths".
Katie Allan's father Stuart said some inmates at Polmont are particularly at risk overnight and become so full of despair "that their only escape is suicide".
Katie Allan, 21, took her own life in her cell in June last year while serving a 16-month sentence after being convicted of a driving offence which injured a pedestrian.
Another inmate, 16-year-old William Brown - also known as William Lindsay - killed himself 48 hours after being sent there on remand four months after the death of Ms Allan.
Ms Allan's family and their solicitor Aamer Anwar met Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf at the Scottish Government offices in Edinburgh on Wednesday as part of their campaign for reform.
They discussed a mental health review by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons which found "systemic inter-agency shortcomings" at Polmont.
Speaking after the meeting Mr Allan said: "We thanked the Cabinet Secretary for his statement last week outlining some of the measures he is now putting in place.
"A pilot of in-cell telephones, a bespoke mental health strategy, the end of random and traumatising body searches for under 18s - all measures that will undoubtedly contribute to improvements.
"Despite this, we have serious concerns for the culture within Polmont - a culture which has led to unnecessary deaths. A culture that contradicts the perceived view of Polmont being 'a leading edge institution'.
"We know there are professional staff at Polmont, we know there are innovative opportunities, but what happens through the night, in the halls, and when staff levels are low?
"What happens is young people become so hopeless, so full of despair, that their only escape is suicide.
"The only way to stop this happening is a change of culture to one of compassionate, trauma-informed rehabilitation."
He said the inspector had made more than 205 recommendations and suggested actions for change but 206 have been made in the past 15 years.
Mr Allan added: "Many of those recommendations remain just that - they reflect poor leadership, endemic bullying, isolation and a culture of drugs within Polmont."
Mr Anwar claimed there has been "little honesty" from the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) on the issue.
"Inspection after inspection has made life-saving recommendations yet Polmont has failed to implement so many," he said.
"As the suicide rate has reached a peak in the last decade, the SPS remains in a state of denial, incapable of reforming itself, which will only lead to more William Lindsays and Katie Allans.
"What the family is deeply grateful for today is that the Cabinet Secretary has shown a robust commitment to bringing about that change."
Mr Yousaf said he was grateful for the opportunity to meet the family to discuss the review and pledged to keep them updated on progress on the actions announced in response.
He added: "While suicides by young people in custody remain relatively rare, the loss of any life is one too many and none should be regarded as inevitable.
"I recognise the profound effect that Katie's death has had on her family and many friends, as well as on prison and healthcare staff, and my thoughts are with all of those who have lost loved ones to suicide."