More people are dying in prison custody, according to new figures released by the Ministry of Justice.
The latest statistics reveal that 257 people died in prison custody last year, and that 89 of those deaths were self-inflicted.
Around this time last year, I blogged about a rise in prison suicides. At that time, I commented on the 82 inmates that had killed themselves in 2014, so to see the number go up by seven over the last year greatly saddens me and causes me to worry that lessons aren’t being learned.
Here’s just a few of the upsetting statistics revealed by the latest Government data:
- A gradual increase in prison deaths over the last 4 years. Since 2012, there’s been a gradual increase in deaths in custody per 1,000 prisoners.
- A 12-year high for self-harm among male prisoners. Self-harm among male inmates has steadily increased since 2004 and last year saw an alarming 29 per cent increase on the year before. Self-harm rates among female prisoners also rose by 11 per cent last year.
- A 45 per cent increase in prison suicides since 2012. There were 61 prison suicides in 2012, so last year’s total of 89 shows that the rate has almost doubled in four years.
The Howard League for Prison Reform has expressed its concern at the rise in prison suicides, with a spokesperson saying: “No one should be so desperate whilst they are in the care of the state that they take their own life.”
Just before Christmas, I commented on the urgent action needed in 2016 to tackle the rise in prison suicides, and the latest Government data certainly backs up how urgent a problem it is. The sharp increase over the last few years could well be connected to budget cutbacks, or it could be that vulnerable prisoners with mental health issues just are not getting the support and care they need.
The State has a legal duty to protect a prisoner’s right to life, according to Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This doesn’t just mean properly investigating the causes of deaths that arise from an alleged breach of that duty to protect a prisoner’s right to life – it also means that prisons must do all they can to address the risk of inmates self-harming before it’s too late.
Improving prisons is something that the UK Government is keen to focus on, so I hope that addressing the rise in self-harm and suicide among prisoners is high on the agenda for this year.
Kim Harrison is Slater and Gordon’s National Practice Development Leader for Human Rights.
The human rights solicitors at Slater and Gordon have represented many families at inquests into the deaths of prisoners who have committed suicide in prison, and have also helped those families in associated claims under the Human Rights Act.
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