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Commission calls for action on human rights failings in Scotland’s prisons and in police custody

Publication date: 11 Oct, 2019

The Mental Welfare Commission today responded to a report by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) which shows serious failings in the treatment of women with mental health needs in prison.

It follows a visit by the committee to prisons and police custody premises in Scotland in October 2018. The CPT report can be found here; the Scottish government's response can be found here and the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) response can be found here.

Colin McKay, chief executive, Mental Welfare Commission, said:

“We reported on delays getting in-patient beds for some mentally unwell prisoners at Cornton Vale two years ago, and we have been raising concerns since at least 2014 about the lack of high secure mental health care for women in Scotland. We know there are pressures on Scotland’s overcrowded prison system and forensic mental health wards and we know that work is in progress to improve them.

“Nevertheless, this report from the CPT today is truly shocking. It highlights three women in appalling conditions in the Cornton Vale segregation unit, whom the visiting psychiatrist concluded were psychotic and in urgent need of hospital care. Another woman had been approved for transfer to hospital 5 months earlier, was still in prison, and had just set fire to her cell.  

“We will urgently review what happened to these women before and after the CPT visit, to see what lessons can be learned.

“As the Government acknowledge, there can be significant delays in transferring women who need psychiatric care to hospital. This is unacceptable. Equally unacceptable is the lack of provision for women with a diagnosis of personality disorder, who are deemed unsuitable for hospital admission. We agree with the CPT that a better alternative to a prison segregation unit must be found. 

“The Commission is visiting all prisons in Scotland next year in a national themed visit that will look at the provision of mental health care across Scotland’s prisons.

“More immediately, we call on the government, the NHS and the Scottish Prison Service to work with us and HMIPS to identify urgent improvements.”

The Commission welcomes the forensic mental health review currently underway in Scotland, led by Derek Barron, but believes that action cannot wait for that review to be concluded.