THE GOVERNOR of HMP Polmont has vowed to train dozens of staff to become mental health first aiders following two suicides at the institution.

In an exclusive interview, Brenda Stewart confirmed 25 employees will be given specialist training on how to better spot the signs of mental ill health in young people by August.

She also vowed to crack down on bullying between detainees at the facility, which houses hundreds of young offenders and some female criminals.

It comes after a report was released earlier this week into the mental health provision at the facility, which suggested there were several areas which could be improved including minimising social isolation for young people on remand, encouraging those on remand to engage in more activities at the facility and better risk management between agencies for people leaving and entering custody.

The report also found that many young people in custody regarded suicide and self-harm screening and procedures as “tick box exercises”, or interventions that exposed them to “further distress”.

READ MORE: Mother of Katie Allan attacks Polmont report

Ms Stewart insisted the welfare of detainees at Polmont was a huge priority for her and her staff, but added she was unable to discuss individual cases due to impending Fatal Accident Inquiries into the deaths.

She said the report, commissioned by Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf, identified a number of recommendations which were "not Polmont-specific" and added: "In terms of the major recommendations in, they involve a whole range of agencies, and they are not Polmont-specific or Scottish Prison Service (SPS)-specific.

"That is not to say there are things we have been working on to try to improve - obviously we are going to try and improve all the time.

"For example, obviously we want to ensure that staff have got the best knowledge and support they can have in order to help the young men and women in here, or identify any issues of concern.

"We are working with two vulnerable groups - young people and women. Its a high priority for us."

She said that 95% of staff have now taken part in refresher training on talk to me – the SPS' national suicide prevention programme.

However 25 key employees at Polmont, who interact with incarcerated young people on a daily basis, are to be put through specific mental health first aid training.

The training has been developed by SPS and is specifically looking at how to spot the signs of mental ill health in young people, and how to offer help.

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Ms Stewart said: "We have not been sitting waiting for a report telling us what to do, we have been focusing on what we can do and what we see will improve.

"We thought there needed to be something more specific for young people, and that has been commissioned and the first cohort are going through it. We started on May 6, and by the end of August 25 key members of staff - managers and residential staff - will be those who have gone through mental health first aid training for young people."

Ms Stewart acknowledged it can be challenging to encourage young people who are not convicted, and are being held at the facility on remand, to engage in activities.

Convicted people must take part in activities while living in prison – it is a legal requirement – however those on remand have no obligation to do so, leaving staff essentially powerless if young people choose to stay in their rooms all day.

Ms Stewart said: "With people on remand, we do a lot of in-reach. They may not want to go out to an activity, but youth work will come in, chaplains, librarians, education staff, and try to offer activities.

"I don't think it is healthy for anyone to sit in a room and do nothing. It is not as if staff accept people saying no, they don't want to do it. Ultimately with the remand, there is nothing in the legislation which forces them to do it and it's tricky that way."

The detention centre has a huge range of activities including classes on joinery and plumbing, hairdressing and beauty, dog training, drama and bricklaying.

READ MORE: Mother of Katie Allan attacks Polmont report

Those who do take part, usually convicted prisoners, can work towards accredited qualifications which staff hope will give them a chance to rebuild their lives on leaving Polmont.

There are also opportunities to earn more traditional academic qualifications at the education block, which looks similar to any modern college building.

Ms Stewart added: "When people leave here, we don't want them to come back. We want to support them as best we can when they are here, and we can always improve."


JUSTICE secretary Humza Yousaf called for an investigation into mental health provision at Polmont following the deaths of two young people in custody.

Kate Allan and William Lindsay both took their own lives while at the facility last year.

William, 16, had been at Polmont for only a few days when he completed suicide in November 2018.

The Glasgow teenager had been on remand at the facility, despite recommendations that he be placed in a secure care centre, and was on suicide watch at the time of his death.

Student Katie Allan, 21, was convicted of drink-driving in February 2018, and had been in Polmont for four months when she was found dead on June 4, 2018.

Her parents Linda and Stewart Allan said she was bullied by other prisoners and targeted for strip searches.

The couple have been leading the fight for better mental health care for those in prison, joined by their lawyer Aamer Anwar.

Mr Anwar called for Polmont Governor Brenda Stewart to resign following the publication of a report into mental health care at the facility last week.

He said: "On first reading it paints a picture of widespread failures at all levels of the SPS and NHS. They regard the review as a damning indictment of Polmont for what it says, but they raise concerns on what has been missed out.

"The findings of the review repeat much of what was said in previous inspection reports in 2012, 2014, 2016, 2017.

"What is shocking is that the SPS and the governor Brenda Stewart have failed to implement much-needed recommendations. Brenda Stewart has presided over a mental health regime which cost the lives of Katie Allan, William Lindsay and others whose names the criminal justice system chooses not to remember: surely it is now time for her to go."

Both William and Katie's deaths will be subject to a mandatory Fatal Accident Inquiry, which could take up to four years.