The parents of a vulnerable student who took her own life in Polmont prison after being subjected to bullying and “targeted” strip searches are to press justice minister Humza Yousaf to bring about “radical reform” of the prison service.
Katie Allan’s family say she was “brutalised” and “tormented” by inmates and staff, leading her to commit suicide just three months into a 16 month sentence.
The 21-year-old was sentenced at Paisley Sheriff Court in March after pleading guilty to two charges after driving more than four times over the legal alcohol limit last August and causing serious injury to a teenager she struck with her car.
She was found dead in her cell on June 4.
Her parents, Linda and Stuart, said although Katie’s guilt was never in doubt, she was remorseful for her actions, and they have been backed by the victim’s family in their campaign to change the criminal justice system.
The Allans claim the Scottish Prison Service failed in its duty of care to their daughter, and have called for a review of how female offenders are treated in custody and the provision of mental health services in prison.
They also say Katie could have been punished with a non-custodial sentence, pointing out that a social work report recommended community service, and intend to press for a review of sentencing guidelines.
Aamer Anwar, the human rights lawyer who is representing the Allan family, said jail sentences were not handed down in similar cases, including convictions for death by careless driving.
Speaking at a press conference at the University of Glasgow yesterday, where Katie was in the third year of a human geography degree, Mrs Allan said her daughter made a “fatal decision” when deciding to get behind the wheel of her car on August 10 that year, a decision that “cost Katie her life.”
She explained: “We had confidence in the system. We had trust in the justice system that ultimately cost our daughter her life and all but destroyed ours.
“So broken is our justice system, so shrouded in institutional secrecy, so covered in the dust from the endless circling wagons, we simply could not stay silent. It is time for radical change.”
Mrs Allan said she and her husband were not prepared to wait for the results of a Fatal Accident Inquiry which would “change nothing,” adding that they had already raised a catalogue of failings with Brenda Stewart, Polmont’s governor, in the days after Katie’s death.
They include claims that: Katie was singled out for strip searches; she did not receive a proper mental health assessment; and that staff failed to act on warnings she was vulnerable.
Mr Anwar said: “This is an issue not just to the families of the deceased, but prison staff who do not have the resources to deal with mental health provision as well as the aftermath of a suicide.”
The Scottish Prison Service said: “This is of course a set of very tragic circumstances and our sympathies are with all who have been affected by this sad death.
“All deaths that occur in Scottish prisons are subject to a Fatal Accident Inquiry and as such it would be inappropriate to comment further until this takes place.”
Relatives of the teenage victim had also urged the courts not to impose a custodial sentence.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Our thoughts and condolences are with the family and friends of Katie Allan.
“We recognise the importance of providing a safe and secure environment for those in custody and a Fatal Accident Inquiry is mandatory where someone has died in legal custody.
“It would not be appropriate to comment on the circumstances of this case pending the independent investigation which is being undertaken by the Crown and ahead of an FAI, which is an independent, judicial process that can help provide more information for families.
“Mr Yousaf is happy to meet with the family to listen to their concerns.”