Self-harming in Scotland’s prisons ‘almost doubled in four years’

Liam McArthur said urgent reform of mental health care in prisons in Scotland was needed. Picture: Toby Williams
Liam McArthur said urgent reform of mental health care in prisons in Scotland was needed. Picture: Toby Williams
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Self-harming in Scotland’s prisons has almost doubled in the past four years, it has emerged.

Urgent action is now being demanded from the Scottish Government to tackle the problem amid concerns that prison staff are not getting proper support.

The Prison Service insists that main reason behind the increase is improvements to the way figures are collected to provide a fuller picture of the problem.

Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur made the plea after prisoners were recorded self-harming on 532 occasions in 2017 – the equivalent of about ten incidents a week.

Figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats using Freedom of Information showed in Cornton Vale, Scotland’s only all-female prison, incidents of self-harm increased from 27 in 2013 to 59 in 2017.

In Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow the total went from seven to 20 over the same period, while staff at Edinburgh’s Saughton Prison recorded 74 self-harm incidents last year, up from 26 in 2013.

In the new Grampian Prison in Peterhead there were 121 incidents of self-harm recorded in 2017, the highest number in any jail that year.

Overall self-harming in prisons increased from 277 recorded incidents in 2013 to 532 in 2017.

McArthur said urgent reform of mental health care in Scotland’s jails was now needed.

“The Scottish Prison Service have been active in improving the identification and recording of self-harm but it is still troubling to see the extent to which self-harm is taking place in Scotland’s prisons,” he said.

“Reform of prison mental health care is urgently needed. A year ago I wrote to the Justice Secretary calling for action to address this self-harm epidemic yet in his parting salvo this week Chief Inspector of Prisons David Strang warned prisoner health care remains an issue.

“Incarceration doesn’t mean people should be deprived of the same access to health care as anyone else in the community. Yet there has long been a sense that this is the case.

“Prison staff are working incredibly hard to help people but they don’t have the resources they need. The Scottish Government agreed more than a year ago to Liberal Democrat demands to put mental health workers in every prison but there is no sign yet of when this will happen.

“I appeal to the Scottish Government to recognise the scale of the challenge that these figures represent. Alleviating poor mental health in our justice system would benefit both these individuals and the wider communities that they will return to.”

However, a spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service insisted that the key change has been in the way that data is collected. He added; “Anyone self-harming in prison is a concern which is why we have worked with health colleagues to improve systems of supporting people in custody.

“Part and parcel of that process is being more robust in the way that you gather information about people manifesting any sort of self-harming behaviour. Prison can be a traumatic experience for lot of individuals and people who are experiencing trauma are probably more likely to manifest self-harming behaviours.

He added: “We take it very seriously which is why we’re trying to be as robust as possible in recording these behaviours.”

He rejected claims that staff are under-resourced.

It comes after a report last year by MSPs on Holyrood’s health committee found that promised improvements in the healthcare of prisoners had not materialised.

“We do not accept the suggestion or expectation that progress and change within the health service takes a long period of time,” the report into treatment services for prisoners concluded.

“It does not need to if the will is there and sadly within prison healthcare this has been conspicuous by its absence.”