The parents of a student who killed herself in jail have claimed the “stark reality” of suicide rates in Scotland’s prisons is being ignored.
Her parents, Linda and Stuart Allan, said 40% of all prison deaths in the last decade were suicide.
The Allans are calling for greater support for inmates.
The Scottish government is expected to publish a review of mental health services for young people in custody later this year.
But the Allans have used a press conference at Holyrood to publish a raft of figures on deaths in custody in Scotland’s prisons.
They said their research showed that in the last 10 years 40% of prisoner deaths were suicides, with 32 of the 82 people who took their own life in that period under the age of 30.
Mrs Allan said: “Our campaign attempts to present to government ministers, academics and society the stark reality of what is going on in the halls of our prisons – no gloss over, no excuses, no spin, no soundbites.
“It is young people who are dying, it is not people on the life sentences, it is people who have been days or weeks in custody.
“People break the law, people get punished and if that includes a custodial sentence then so so be it.
“But we don’t have the death penalty in Scotland and people should not pay for their crimes with their lives.”
Mrs Allan said the prison service should be held legally responsible for the deaths in its custody, and criticised lack of mental health support and inaction to protect prisoners.
Glasgow University geography student Katie was 21 when she took her own life and her parents have claimed prison staff failed to heed warnings that their daughter was “vulnerable” and had a history of self-harming.
‘Hidden dirty secrets’
The Allans’ research also looked at the pace of Fatal Accident Inquiries (FAI) held after deaths in custody and found 67 are still outstanding, with some dating back to 2014.
The family’s lawyer Aamer Anwar said the Allans had lost faith in the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), “which appears more interested in spin and cover-ups”.
He added: “They believe an FAI system – held on average now two years after a suicide – is not fit for purpose, it is set up to fail families and hide what is truly happening.
“The SPS treats prison suicides as hidden dirty secrets but there is nothing inevitable about suicides.
“Over half of those imprisoned today in Scotland’s prisons have definable mental health problems and prison is not fit for purpose for dealing with them.
“Katie Allan and many others were failed by a system which keeps repeating the same mistakes.”
A SPS spokesman said its thoughts were with the friends and family of Miss Allan.
He said it is awaiting the FAI into her death and a report from the Chief Inspector of Prisons with any recommendations for changes to be made.
The prison service questioned some of the family’s own figures, adding that its own records show there were 89 suspected or confirmed suicides between 2008 and 2018.
The Scottish government last year announced it was reviewing mental health provision for young people entering custody, including background information ahead of their admission, reception arrangements, and ongoing support and supervision while in custody.