THE parents of a young woman who died by suicide at Polmont Prison and Young Offenders Institution (YOI) have welcomed news that a leading expert is to oversee an independent review of mental health and support for young people in custody.

However, Linda and Stuart Allan, whose daughter Katie took her own life at Polmont last June, said they also wanted to hear about Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf’s longer-term plans for inspections of prisons across Scotland.

READ MORE: Scotland's prisons are well beyond maximum capacity

Yousaf announced yesterday that consultant forensic child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr Helen Smith, would work with HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland and others to review support for young people at Polmont.

In a letter to the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Justice Committees, he spelled out details of the areas the review will consider, including background information that was available to the Scottish Prison Service ahead of admission, reception arrangements on entry to the jail and ongoing support and supervision while in custody.

The National:

“This review will focus specifically on young people in custody and will draw directly on the views and lived experiences of staff, young people and their families at Polmont,” said Yousaf. “It will require a wide-ranging approach with a specific understanding of the particular difficulties faced by young people ... Any death by suicide is tragic and the impact on family and friends is unimaginable for most of us.

READ MORE: Suicides in young offenders institutions prompt call for action

“We have made both suicide prevention and reforming young people’s mental health key priorities with a significant focus on early intervention.

“However, it is imperative that we take a focused approach to addressing concerns that have been raised about support for young people in custody. This expert review will provide that.”

Smith added: “This opportunity also allows me to consider whether any lessons can be transferred between Secure Care, the Scottish Prison Service and other relevant agencies.”

Lawyer Aamer Anwar represents the Allan family and that of 16-year-old William Lindsay, who took his own life at Polmont in October last year. A review of mental health provision for young people in custody was announced after they met the Justice Secretary last November.

“But the [Allan] family also want to hear about longer term plans on inspection of prisons across Scotland,” he said. “Despite the wide-ranging recommendations made by several inquiries over the last decade it is clear the Scottish Prison Service has obstructed the radical change necessary to stop young people like Katie Allan and William Lindsay taking their own lives.”

READ MORE: Review after suicides at Polmont Young Offenders Institution

He said the Allan family welcomed Smith’s appointment “as an important first step”, but their additional research had revealed “grave concerns” about current observation policies in Scottish prisons.

“Our contact with prisoners has highlighted their views of being labelled as ‘at risk’ of suicide. There is a reluctance to admit feelings of suicide as they will be placed in a ‘suicide cell’, stripped, provided with anti-ligature bedding and clothing, have all their personal belongings removed and be given finger food.

“In addition they will be ‘checked’ at intervals either of 15mins, 30mins or 60mins, often by prison officers switching on a cell light. Prisoners treat such cells as ‘punishment cells’.

“We would hope members of the expert group will recognise this practice as inhumane and degrading.”

He added: “There was nothing inevitable about William and Katie taking their own lives. It was clear to anybody that cared to look that they were vulnerable and at risk of taking their own lives.”