By Lucy Ashton

Scottish Labour has raised the alarm at findings that the number of prisoners placed on suicide or self-harm watch in Scotland has risen dramatically on the SNP’s watch.

The annual number of people placed on plans by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) was 28% higher in 2021 compared with 2007 and was still sitting at almost 3,000 in 2022.

Statistics show a rising trend of suicide and self-harm referrals among prisoners over the period, with numbers in 2019, before the pandemic, 21% higher than when the SNP came to power in 2007.

The current SPS Suicide Prevention in Prison Strategy, ‘Talk to Me,’ was introduced in 2016 and replaced the previous strategy known as ACT2Care, introduced in 1996.

Despite this, only 2017 saw referral numbers drop below the 2016 levels before they started to rise again and in 2022 they were 14% higher than in 2016. 

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture describing the strategy as particularly “insufficient to enable adequate care to be provided for the increasing number of women prisoners”.

Katy Clark, Scottish Labour spokesperson for Community Safety, left, commented: “These alarming statistics illustrate the urgent need to reform our prison system and protect prisoners and staff. 

“We have a mental health crisis in Scottish prisons, which is only exacerbated by our extremely high imprisonment rate and dangerously overcrowded estate.

“Prison workers are going above and beyond for those in custody in difficult conditions, but they aren’t trained health professionals. It’s clear staff need relevant support and training and the SPS need more funding and resource.

“However, we also have a situation where those with pre-existing mental health conditions are being given custodial sentences instead of treatment, which itself can be linked to failing mental health, alcohol and drug services. We need to break that chain.

“That’s why Scottish Labour is calling on the Scottish Government to review the role of open prisons, secure care units and day custody approaches, with local custody services developed for women and young people in particular.”

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