Thousands of self-harming incidents recorded in prisons since 2017

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur says the Scottish Government have been “slow to act” on the problem.

Thousands of self-harming incidents recorded in Scottish prisons since 2017 iStock

More than 3000 instances of self-harm have been logged in Scotland’s prisons in the past four years, new figures show.

A freedom of information request by the Scottish Liberal Democrats laid bare the problem, with the data showing 527 incidents where prisoners at HMP Addiewell in West Lothian had self-harmed.

In total, 3148 reports of self-harm have been made since 2017, with the figure rising from 493 in 2017 to 635 last year, although the number declined slightly following a major spike to 704 in 2018.

The most prevalent type of self-harm was cutting, which accounted for 495 reports last year, while there were also 140 incidents in which other methods were used.

However the actual figures are likely to be higher, as prisons with less than five instances do not specify the exact number to prevent identification of the prisoners involved.

Lib Dem justice spokesman Liam McArthur accused the Scottish Government of being “slow to act” on the problem.

“These latest figures are deeply concerning but hardly surprising in a prison estate that is bursting at the seams,” he said.

“The problem of self-harm in Scotland’s prisons has been getting steadily worse over the years, but SNP ministers have been slow to act.

“While ministers talk a good game about delivering a more progressive agenda on justice, the reality on the ground is very different.

“Scotland locks up more of its population than anywhere else in Europe, remand levels are through the roof and rates of self-harm continue to rise.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats believe the Government can start turning this situation around by basing more mental health professionals in our prisons.

“We secured a commitment from ministers to deliver this important measure, but so far recruitment has been glacially slow.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The safe treatment and mental health of all those in custody is a key priority for Scotland’s prisons, which care for people with higher levels of risk and vulnerability than the general population as a whole.

“Our Mental Health Transition & Recovery Plan published in October 2020, backed by our £120 million Recovery and Renewal Fund, made clear our commitment to continue to work with partners to seek better support for those with mental ill-health within the criminal justice system, including prisons.

“Suicide prevention and self-harm policy are key areas of focus for the Scottish Prison Service in developing its Health and Wellbeing Strategy.

“This strategy is a Programme for Government commitment and work is under way in this area.”

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