In-cell phones, and the abolition of strip searches for those aged under 18, are among proposals to improve the wellbeing of young offenders in custody announced yesterday by Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf.

Mr Yousaf was outlining the Scottish Government’s initial response to the independent review by HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland mental health services for young people in custody, following the suicides in Polmont Young Offenders' Institution last year of William Lindsay and Katie Allan.

The report, published last month, found a "lack of proactive attention" to the needs, risk and vulnerabilities of those on remand in the early stages.

Prisoners in Scotland normally have access only to phones in communal areas at certain times, but the report called for allowing increased family contact as a means of supporting those held when they are distressed.

Mr Yousaf said the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) was developing plans to trial the provision of in-cell telephones, with appropriate controls, at Polmont.

Routine body searches for those under 18 are also to be stopped as a matter of priority, and SPS will adopt "a more trauma-informed approach" to its searching process for women. Other work now underway includes:

  • the development of a new SPS health and wellbeing strategy, including a bespoke mental health strategy for young people;
  • a renewed commitment to ensuring alternatives to remand are available for young people, while supporting those the courts remand in custody;
  • multi-agency work to improve information sharing between the different agencies supporting the care of young people entering and held in Polmont.

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, Mr Yousaf said: “Supporting positive family contact throughout someone’s time in prison has wide-ranging benefits for individuals and their families, it also reduces the risk of reoffending and supports positive relationships, which contribute to good mental health and mitigate vulnerability.

“In-cell phones have the potential to contribute to prisoners’ wellbeing by making family contact significantly easier. They also improve access to national helpline services, and technology can offer the potential to develop telehealth services and other supports for wellbeing in prisons.

“We will explore the options available as we take forward a pilot, while ensuring that the prison service retains both control over the phone numbers which prisoners can access and the ability to monitor calls.”