LIBDEM Liam McArthur: Chance of dying in prison has doubled since 2008  

By Bill Heaney

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP has today condemned the government’s response to deaths in custody and Fatal Accident Inquiries (FAIs) after a report found that the chances of a prisoner dying in prison have doubled since 2008.

The report from the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research entitled Still nothing to see here? One year update on prison deaths and FAI outcomes in Scotland also found that:

  • 121 people died in prison between January 2020 and September 2022- this was higher than any other three-year period. The report also notes that Covid was not the main cause of the increase in the current period.
  • Suicide and drugs-related deaths were the driving forces in the rising levels of death and the leading causes of deaths in prison in 2022.
  • There has been a “lack of scrutiny of a suicide prevention policy that has seen a 42% rise in suicides since being introduced”. Prison and health staff regularly testify that it worsens prisoner wellbeing.
  • FAIs into deaths in custody take over two years on average to complete. The longest inquiry took over four years and yet still made no findings beyond time, place and cause of death.
  • Family involvement in fatal accident inquiries remains low, with no family presence or legal representation noted in 75% of fatal accident inquiries.
  • In more than 90% of fatal accident inquiries no finding is given to prevent another death in similar circumstances.

On the rising number of deaths in custody, Mr McArthur, left,  said:   “Today’s findings make for horrific reading. Families are being let down by a self-harm epidemic in Scottish prisons and the government’s dereliction of responsibility.    

“Even as deaths spiral and the number of suicides and drugs-deaths climb, lessons are simply not being learned.

“This needs to stop. Scottish Liberal Democrats would rollout robust mental health provision across Scotland’s prisons and end the threats to well-being and lives.

“We would also introduce a deadline for the commencement of reviews into custodial deaths and a guarantee to families that they will receive necessary support when navigating legal proceedings.”

On the future of Fatal Accident Inquiries, Mr McArthur added:   “It is heart-breakingly clear that Scotland’s FAI system is in pieces. This leaves families and loved ones waiting in frustration, anger and distress. 

“Scottish Liberal Democrats are calling on the government to implement a comprehensive overhaul of FAIs. These will drive inquiries forward and ensure that the voices of families and loves ones are heard. They will also mean that witnesses and those who knew the deceased are able to give evidence in an inquiry, meaning that a clear and careful account of the death can be delivered.

“It is time FAIs were removed from the remit of the Crown Office and handed to a new body charged with ensuring that inquiries begin within a year and results are presented in a timely fashion.

Pictures: Dumbarton Sheriff Court, venue for FAIs, and top of page Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow.

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