By Bill Heaney

Real concern has been expressed in the Scottish Parliament about the number of deaths of young people in police and prison custody.

LibDem MSP Willie Rennie referred to this on Thursday when he told First Minister Nicola Sturgeon: “Jack McKenzie, Katie Allan, William Lindsay, Robert Wagstaff and Liam Kerr—those five young people all took their own lives at Polmont young offenders institution within the past five years. “

Polmont is one of the young offenders’ institutions where young people from West Dunbartonshire and South Argyll are locked up. Some of them are held in adult institutions.

Mr Rennie said: “The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland believes that the conditions for children in prison were in breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the prohibition on torture, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment in article 3 of the European convention on human rights.

“How many more damning reports will be published and how many more young people will have to die before this shameful situation comes to an end?”

The First Minister replied: “I make it very clear that we fully support a presumption against any people under the age of 18 being dealt with through the criminal justice system.

“Since the shift towards prevention in 2007, there have been positive changes in youth justice.

“According to official statistics, at 30 June 2007, there were 221 young people under the age of 18 in custody. As of Tuesday this week, the figure was 15.

“Between 2008-09 and 2019-20, there was an 85 per cent reduction in the number of children and young people who were prosecuted in courts and a 93 per cent reduction in the number of 16 and 17-year-olds who were sentenced to custody.

“However, there is more to do. In line with our commitment to Keeping the Promise, we are committed to reducing that number further.

“We all want Scotland’s young people to be safeguarded within the youth justice system and kept out of young offenders institutions, and we will consult shortly on necessary legislative changes to underpin the changes in practice that I have just narrated.”

Picture: LibDem education spokesperson Willie Rennie – “how many more damning reports will there be?”

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