Prisons (Support for Vulnerable People)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 15th September 2021.

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Photo of Gillian Mackay Gillian Mackay Green

2. To ask the Scottish Government how it supports vulnerable people in the prison system. (S6O-00134)

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

We recognise that increasing numbers of prisoners have a range of multiple and complex needs. The health needs of the prison population, for example, are particularly challenging. We know that people in custody often have higher rates of substance use issues, mental health problems and complications with physical health in comparison to the general population. The support that is required to address the often multiple needs of vulnerable people in custody can be multifaceted and is delivered through effective joint working between the Scottish Prison Service and a range of partners including social care, health, third sector and education authorities.

Photo of Gillian Mackay Gillian Mackay Green

In recent months, there have been a number of serious incidents at Polmont young offenders institution, including a riot and an inmate being scalded. How is the Scottish Government working with the Scottish Prison Service to ensure the safety and wellbeing of young people in Polmont?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

The safe treatment of mental health issues of all those in custody, whether in Polmont or elsewhere, is a key priority for Scotland’s prisons and our Prison Service. We take the mental health of all those in custody very seriously. The SPS is developing a new health and wellbeing strategy for the service that recognises the increasing complexities and the underlying health conditions of the prison population in comparison to the wider population. The strategy will focus on a public health approach through the organised efforts of the SPS in partnership with those who have responsibilities for the delivery of healthcare in prisons.

The new health and wellbeing strategy will provide the overarching framework for all health-related strategies, which includes mental health. We are also undertaking a substantial study in relation to the complexity of needs in the area. We will produce a report on that next year, which will inform the strategy that I have mentioned.

Photo of Russell Findlay Russell Findlay Conservative

Thanks to ITV News, we know that supposedly tamper-proof mobile phones have been hacked and have been used to deal drugs. Organised criminals are targeting vulnerable inmates for the use of their phones. We also know that many of the drugs that come into prison are impregnated in letters.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Question, please, Mr Findlay.

Photo of Russell Findlay Russell Findlay Conservative

Two weeks ago, I asked the cabinet secretary to consider photocopying letters rather than giving the originals in order to stem that flow. What has he done about that?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

As I think the member knows, that is quite a complex area. The Prison Service was aware of the issue and is looking at it now. Officials who were present at the committee meeting to which the member refers or who listened into it are examining the proposal. It was a constructive proposal, and I took it in that spirit. I ask the member to give us time to look at it seriously and get back to him.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

A University of Glasgow study of 200 fatal accident inquiries into deaths in custody found that, in 90 per cent of cases, sheriffs made no recommendation to improve practices, which I found surprising. I think that the cabinet secretary mentioned the issue in the tail end of his answer to Gillian Mackay. In view of that study, I thought—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Question, please, Ms McNeill.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I think that the cabinet secretary referred to the independent review into deaths in custody, which have become a serious issue for Scotland. Will the Government commit to implementing its key findings quickly so that we can learn from past mistakes?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I agree with the thrust of what Pauline McNeill says. I cannot answer that in advance of knowing the recommendations, but it is a serious issue and we will look at it seriously. Of course, Parliament and the member will have the chance to question us on that. We take very seriously anything that might improve the situation for prisoners in that area.