Body cams for Scots prison officers to be trialled at three jails amid rise in inmate deaths

prison officer body cam
Prison officers to try out body-worn cameras. -Credit:PA

Bosses at three Scots jails are set to trial body cams for staff amid a worrying rise in prison deaths.

The Record understands the technology will see pilots at HMP Barlinnie in Glasgow, HMP Low Moss in East Dunbartonshire and HMP Perth.

It follows a shock study published in February that found four people die in state custody in Scotland every week.

High-profile prison deaths have included Katie Allan and William Lindsay, who took their own lives in separate incidents at Polmont Young Offenders Institution in 2018.

Their families believe the deaths of Katie, 21, and William, 16 - four months apart - were down to severe failings in the duty of care from prison officers.

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

The deaths sparked calls for changes in the law which give Scottish Prison Service (SPS) officers immunity from prosecution in certain circumstances.

Under the new scheme, it’s understood body-worn cameras will not be constantly switched on and prison guards will need to tell inmates when they’re activated.

Allan Marshall died after being restrained by officers at Saughton jail in 2015.
Allan Marshall died after being restrained by officers at Saughton jail in 2015. -Credit:Daily Record

An SPS spokesman said: “The health and wellbeing of our staff and those in our care, and the safety, security, and good order of our establishments, are key priorities.

“This pilot, across three of our establishments, will aim to support those priorities, while also promoting transparency, trust, and good relationships, and acting as a deterrent against criminality and rule breaches.”

POA Scotland, the trade union for prison workers, said it backed the pilots and hoped they will have ”a positive impact on behaviours and interactions between prisoners and staff on the basis that the interactions are being recorded".

Assistant general secretary Phil Fairlie said: “The POA have been fully consulted on this pilot and have been involved in partnership with the SPS in developing the approach to the introduction and trialling of the equipment.

“Our colleagues in other jurisdictions have previous experience of using the cameras and the feedback we have from them is fairly positive in terms of seeing a reduction in false complaints about staff, and of the images being useful in prosecuting incidents post-event."

He added: “Any issues that come from the pilot that throw up concerns, or a need to revisit the approach taken with their introduction, is something we as a trade union will be taking forward with SPS.”

The spike in prisoner deaths comes after revelations that Scotland has the second highest prison population rate in Western Europe.

Scotland's incarceration rate stood at 136 inmates per 100,000 population, above that for England and Wales at 132, Council of Europe data found.

Scotland’s chief inspector for prisons Wendy Sinclair-Gieben warned in March that HMP Barlinnie is so overcrowded it is now “at risk of catastrophic failure”.

In January, First Minister Humza Yousaf wrote to PM Rishi Sunak calling for the prison service's immunity from prosecution under health and safety laws to be removed.

The SPS's immunity has already been lifted in relation to corporate homicide.

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