Inspectors back in-cell phones at Polmont YOI

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Prison inspectors are “delighted” about Polmont YOI’s trial of in-cell telephones in an effort to offer more support to vulnerable young inmates.

While the Young Offenders Institution’s health and wellbeing rating was classed as “poor” in the recently published HM Inspectorate for Prisons for Scotland (HMIPS) annual report for 2018 to 2019, the use of technology was seen as a positive step for a facility which houses over 470 young people.

The report stated: “Outwith Scotland, in-cell telephony has had a demonstrable effect in reducing self-harm – it allows victims to contact family, friends and self-help and advice lines in private and out with normal hours.

“HMIPS was delighted to hear the cabinet secretary for justice Humza Yousaf announce a trial of in-cell telephony in HMP YOI Polmont and welcomed the use of Samaritans’ mobile telephones for young people and women in Polmont to access during the night and lock-up periods.”

The report also noted a telephone line had been set up for staff to speak directly to psychology experts if they have concerns or required advice about a prisoner.

Inspectors praised the role peer mentors had in the YOI reception area, helping to allay any fears prisoners had when first admitted.

A review of provision of mental health services at Polmont YOI found “being traumatised, being young, being held on remand and being in the first three months of custody increased the risk of suicide”.

To reduce this risk it suggested social isolation should be minimised, with a particular focus on those held on remand and during the early weeks of custody, and a bespoke suicide and self-harm strategy should be developed by the Scottish Prison Service and NHS Forth Valley for young people.

In June the charity Families Outside stated more contact with loved ones could help reduce incidents of suicide in prisons and this was backed up by last year’s HMIPS inspection report, which pointed to family contact being “one of the most important areas where actions can be taken to moderate vulnerability and help manage the risk of self-inflicted death”.

In October last year the parents of Katie Allan, who took her own life in Polmont, called for a “radical reform” of the prison service.

Her family said Katie was “brutalised” and “tormented” by inmates and staff, leading her to commit suicide on June 4, 2018 – just three months into a 16 month sentence.

The 21-year-old was sentenced at Paisley Sheriff Court in March after pleading guilty to driving more than four times over the legal alcohol limit in August 2017 and seriously injuring a teenager she struck with her car.