Ace child psychiatrist will lead Polmont YOI mental health probe

Suicides at Polmont YOI have led to a review of mental health and support services for young offenders.
Suicides at Polmont YOI have led to a review of mental health and support services for young offenders.

Leading child and youth psychiatrist Dr Helen Smith is to oversee the expert review set up in the wake of suicides at Polmont Young Offenders Institution last year.

Justice secretary Humza Yousaf ordered an independent review of mental health and support services after a series of suicides at the prison, culminating in the deaths of William Lindsay and (earlier in 2018) Katie Allan (21).

Katie Allan.

Katie Allan.

The tragedies sparked public and parliamentary demands for an inquiry into how vulnerable inmates are treated.

Consultant Forensic Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Dr Smith will now work closely with HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland on the study.

Dr Smith is clinical lead for West of Scotland Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service and Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer at the University of Glasgow.

She brings extensive experience of work to improve the mental health of young people in secure care.

Solicitor Aamer Anwar on behalf of Linda Allan and Stuart Allan, the parents of Katie Allan, said today: “Katie’s parents welcome today’s wide-ranging review of mental health provision for young people in prison custody, as a response to our meeting with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice on November 13 last year.

“At that meeting over 15 points of action for Scottish prisons were presented to him and several of those have been taken on board.

“But the family also want to hear about longer term plans on inspection of prisons across Scotland”.

He says Katie’s family have carried out additional research leading to “grave concerns” about how inmates are overseen at prison, and says there is no reference to observation policies in the agenda set out for the review.

Mr Anwar claims prisoners are reluctant to admit to feelings of suicide as they will then be “placed in a suicide cell” and treated to “inhumane and degrading” treatment.

The review will cover background information on inmates available to the Scottish Prison Service ahead of admission, reception arrangements on entry, and the nature of support and supervision of inmates.

Mr Yousaf said:“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.

“It will require a wide-ranging approach with a specific understanding of the particular difficulties faced by young people, so I am pleased that Dr Smith, with her considerable experience and knowledge, has been appointed to provide expert counsel.

“Any death by suicide is tragic and the impact on family and friends is unimaginable for most of us.

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

“Some of this will be achieved through the Children and Young People’s Taskforce, led by Denise Coia, and the Suicide Prevention Leadership Group, chaired by Rose Fitzpatrick.

“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.”

Dr Helen Smith said: “I’m looking forward to working with HMP&YOI Polmont and NHS Forth Valley to examine the support given to vulnerable young people at a very difficult time in their lives.

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