The Scottish Government has been accused of moving at a “snail’s pace” in refreshing the prison suicide prevention strategy.

The document – entitled Talk to Me – expired in 2021 and another plan is yet to be put in place.

In 2022, a report from Glasgow University showed there had been a record number of deaths in Scotland’s prisons between 2020 and 2022, with 29 of the 121 logged as being caused by suicide.

The report also found deaths by suicide in prisons increased by 42% between the strategy being introduced in 2016 and 2022 – rising from 45 in the preceding six-year period to 64.

A response to a parliamentary question from Scottish Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur showed the first stage has been completed by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), which includes a “literature review, user voice interviews, staff focus groups, an NHS survey and a workshop for families”.

A new strategy was due to be published early last year, but was delayed to October and still has not been released.

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Mr McArthur said: “Ministers are moving at snail’s pace. 835 days is an unacceptably long time for prisoners, guards and families to wait for action.

“It also leaves in place policies that experts at Glasgow University say actually worsened prisoner wellbeing.

“For too long, the SNP have presided over a self-harm epidemic behind the gates and walls of Scotland’s prisons.”

The Lib Dem justice spokesman pointed to the cases of Katie Allan and William Brown, two young people who took their own lives while in Scotland’s prisons despite having been evaluated under the strategy, describing the cases as “tragic”.

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The deaths of both are now subject to a fatal accident inquiry.

“It is delay after delay, distraction after distraction with this government, and people are now paying the price with their lives,” he added.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats have long campaigned to make our prisons humane and productive places.

“To save lives and restore faith in the system, ministers must accelerate progress on this strategy, ensure it contains proper checks and balances and roll out mental health professionals across the prison estate.”

A Scottish Prison Service spokesperson said: “The mental and physical health and wellbeing of those in our care is a key priority.

“The first stage of the review of Talk to Me, our suicide prevention strategy, has been completed.

“This has taken into account the views of our staff, those in our care and their families, as well as external experts.

“We have also implemented many of the recommendations made by the Independent Review of the Response to Deaths in Prison Custody.

“This has included dedicated phone lines which have been introduced in every prison, giving families a direct route to raise mental health concerns about their loved one, and in turn improve our ability to identify people at risk.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Every suicide is an enormous tragedy and leaves devastating and long-lasting impacts.

“The safe treatment and mental health of all those in custody is a key priority for this Government and the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), which care for people with higher levels of risk and vulnerability than the general population as a whole.

“The SPS suicide prevention strategy Talk to Me is in use across the prison estate. The first stage of the review of the strategy has been completed, with work ongoing.

“In 2023/24 we committed £2.5 million to suicide prevention, and we are on track to achieving our commitment to double this annual funding to £2.8 million by 2026.”