Scottish Prison Officers to Test Body Cameras in Three Jails as Response to Increasing Inmate Deaths

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Leaders at three Scottish prisons are preparing to test body cameras for staff in response to a concerning increase in inmate deaths.

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The Record has learned that the trial will occur at HMP Barlinnie in Glasgow, HMP Low Moss in East Dunbartonshire, and HMP Perth.

This decision follows a disturbing report from February revealing that four individuals die in Scottish state custody each week.

Notably, the deaths of Katie Allan and William Lindsay, who committed suicide in separate events at Polmont Young Offenders Institution in 2018, have highlighted these issues.

Their families argue that the deaths of Katie, 21, and William, 16, who died four months apart, were due to significant lapses in care from prison staff.

In another case, Allan Marshall, 30, died in March 2015 at HMP Edinburgh after being restrained by 17 guards at different times.

These incidents have triggered demands for legal changes that would remove the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) officers’ immunity from prosecution under specific conditions.

With the new initiative, it’s understood that the body cameras worn by staff will not be continuously recording, and officers will need to inform inmates when they are activated.

An SPS representative stated: “The health and wellbeing of our personnel and those under our care, as well as the safety, security, and proper management of our facilities, are paramount.

“This trial, being conducted in three of our institutions, seeks to bolster these priorities and enhance transparency, trust, and relations while also deterring criminal acts and rule violations.”

POA Scotland, the prison workers’ union, supports the trials and anticipates they will positively influence interactions and behaviors between inmates and staff, given that these interactions will be recorded.

Phil Fairlie, Assistant General Secretary, remarked: “The POA has been thoroughly consulted about this pilot and has partnered with the SPS in crafting the strategy for deploying and testing the cameras.

“Our counterparts in other areas have prior experience with the cameras, and their feedback suggests a decrease in unfounded complaints against staff and that the footage is helpful for prosecuting events after the fact.”

He continued: “Any problems identified during the pilot that raise concerns, or necessitate a reevaluation of our approach to implementing these cameras, will be something we, as a union, will address with the SPS.”

This increase in prisoner deaths occurs amidst data showing Scotland has the second-highest incarceration rate in Western Europe.

According to the Council of Europe, Scotland’s incarceration rate is 136 per 100,000 people, higher than the 132 per 100,000 in England and Wales.

Scotland’s chief inspector of prisons, Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, warned in March that HMP Barlinnie faces a “risk of catastrophic failure” due to severe overcrowding.

In January, First Minister Humza Yousaf petitioned PM Rishi Sunak to revoke the prison service’s immunity from prosecution under health and safety laws.

The SPS’s exemption has already been removed concerning corporate homicide.

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