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Prison Suicides Increase in England and Wales after Staff Cutbacks

By Principal Lawyer, Abuse and Disease Teams

Last year 82 inmates killed themselves in the custody of HM Prisons in England and Wales. That is seven more than in 2013, the highest in 7 years according to statistics from the Howard League for Penal Reform.

A total of 235 deaths occurred in prisons in England & Wales in 2014, with an average population of 84,250. The suicides included 14 young adults, aged between 18 and 24.

The Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform said, “No-one should be so desperate whilst they are in the care of the state they take their own life. The numbers hide the true extent of misery inside prisons and for families. It’s particularly tragic that teenagers and other young people have died by their own hand in our prisons and we should all be ashamed that this happened.”

Though reasons for the rise in suicides are varied, The Chief Inspector of Prisons’ Annual 2013-14 Report states “resource” as a factor of the issue. A spokesperson for the Howard League highlighted that the increase in prison suicides has come at the same time as a decrease in staff. Whereas the population of HM Prisons has increased, (until a successive decrease over the past 3 years) there has been a marked decrease in experienced staff.

Early in January 2015 The Independent Monitoring Board report said that budget cuts were a cause for concern with “significantly fewer” experienced supervising officers on each wing to train the less-experienced officers and manage the inmates of Chelmsford Prison. This has had a “negative impact on the care and safety of prisoners.” Since the reduction of staff, “bullying, low-level violence and disobedience by prisoners has increased.”

As a Human Rights Solicitor I have over the years represented numerous bereaved family members at Inquests and then in associated civil and human rights act claims whose loved ones have committed suicide in prison.

Each case is heart-breaking but it’s also extremely frustrating that time and time again the same issues seem to arise in these cases about lack of proper mental health supervision and treatment in prison, prisoners not being put in safe cells when they were at risk of suicide and lessons just not being learnt.

These families are as much victims of the failures of the prison system as the prisoners themselves. It’s clear that in many HM prisons the mental healthcare available to prisoners needs additional funding as well as ensuring all the services are joined up, as quite often problems arise when records have not been properly kept or vital information has not been communicated between health care staff.

Kim Harrison is a Senior Human Rights Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.

For a free consultation about a Human Rights issue in England or Wales call Slater and Gordon Lawyers on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help.

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