Prison Cell

There has been a significant rise in self-harm and suicide amongst prisoners in custody recently.

There were 762 incidents in 2018 compared to 532 in 2017 a jump of over 40%.  There were 32 deaths in  prisons in 2018 and 22 deaths in 2019.

One possible way to help prevent self-harm and suicide in prison may be more contact with family and friends.

The HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland has advised that one solution to the rise in self-harm in  prisons is that cellmates have phones inside their cells

A report in 2018 from think tank reform Scotland showed that in cell telephones would help prisoners rehabilitation, although at that time the Scottish Prison Service said they had no plans to introduce this.

Concern has also been expressed that the Scottish Prison Service has  cut mental health charity contracts in Scottish prisons. The charities counselled more than 5,000 inmates with 65% of them avoiding reoffending.  

If there is a death in custody the law requires that  the Prison Service keep all information on deaths of prisoners for ten years and that this  information is published quarterly.  A Fatal accident inquiry must always be carried out.  


In October 2019 four prisoners were found dead over a period of four days between HMP Barlinnie and HMP Low Moss.  Fatal Accident Inquiries were held into each death. One of the men was one year into his sentence where the other three men were awaiting trial.

HMP Barlinnie for example is showing as over 40% over capacity of inmates with overcrowding being considered a significant factor in the rise of death in custody.

The Scottish Justice Secretary has said he wants to make it a priority to improve communication and arrangements with families of prisoners after their deaths.  The stated aim of Prison authorities is commitment to  preventing suicides through the introduction of specialist training between NHS & Scottish Prison Service.

Although this has been just a very short look at the issue of deaths in custody Scotland it is  clear that a lack of resources is a crucial factor. Every death represents a tragic loss and should be viewed by society as no less important due to the death occurring in prison. Through our work with various charities in particular those that provide counselling to survivors of historic abuse Thompsons will always support any measures that make our prisons safer places for both inmates and staff.

Blog by Samantha McAleer

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