835 days since prison suicide prevention strategy expired

13 Apr 2024
Liam McArthur MSP

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP has accused the SNP government of moving at “snail’s pace” in developing a revised strategy for suicide prevention in prisons, after research by his party uncovered that work on the new strategy has only just begun despite the old strategy expiring 835 days ago.

On 31st December 2021, the Scottish Government’s 2016-2021 “Talk to Me” strategy, designed to prevent suicide in prisons, expired. Although ministers committed to a revised strategy by spring 2023 and then delayed it until October 2023, it has never been published.

Following a parliamentary question by Mr McArthur, the government has now confirmed it has only completed the first stage of a review for the new strategy. They have yet to analyse the evidence, formulate recommendations and present those recommendations to the National Suicide Prevention Management Group for consideration and ratification.

Experts have called into question the effectiveness of the old strategy. In their 2022 report, Still Nothing to See Here, researchers from Glasgow University stated that: “Following the introduction of the Talk to Me strategy there have been 42% more suicides than before it came into effect.”

The Deputy First Minister, Shona Robison, has also confirmed that the government’s £30m cut to mental health will have an impact upon mental health services in prisons.

Mr McArthur said:

“Ministers are moving at snail’s pace. 835 days is an unacceptably long time for prisoners, guards and families to wait for action. It also leaves in place policies that experts at Glasgow University say actually worsened prisoner wellbeing.

“For too long, the SNP have presided over a self-harm epidemic behind the gates and walls of Scotland’s prisons. Tragic cases, like those of Katie Allan and William Brown, expose the devastating consequences of that epidemic.

“It is delay after delay, distraction after distraction with this government, and people are now paying the price with their lives.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats have long campaigned to make our prisons humane and productive places. To save lives and restore faith in the system, ministers must accelerate progress on this strategy, ensure it contains proper checks and balances and roll out mental health professionals across the prison estate.”

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