Rise in prison suicides prompts calls to tackle overcrowding

This article was taken from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/nov/19/rise-in-prison-suicides-prompts-calls-to-tackle-overcrowding

By Ben Quinn

Seventy-one inmates have killed themselves in English or Welsh jails so far this year

The number of suicides among prisoners this year has already exceeded 2017’s death toll, prompting penal reform campaigners to renew calls for urgent action to tackle overcrowding.

The latest suicide, that of a man in his 40s who was waiting to be sentenced, happened at Winchester prison, bringing the number of self-inflicted deaths in England and Wales so far this year to 71.

Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said she feared for the weeks ahead as Christmas approached. “There are simply too many people in the system,” she said.

Crook, who receives regular updates on the number of self-inflicted prison deaths, tweeted on Monday to highlight the figure of 71 men and women who had killed themselves.

Twenty-two of these were in their 30s and nine in their 20s, while three were aged under 24. A total of 24 were being monitored at the time of their death because they were recognised to be at risk of suicide.

“Lives are being saved every week by the good work of staff in every establishment but prisons are now really struggling, whether they are in special measures or coping with conditions like rat infestations and overcrowding,” said Crook.

“People shouldn’t be dying in prisons like this. In cases where the state has taken all responsibility away from you then they should at least be safe places.”

Crook welcomed the fact that the number of deaths had gone down last year but warned that there was still a “toxic environment’” in prisons, the majority of which were full or overcrowded.

It emerged last month that MPs were told by the NHS watchdog that almost half of England’s jails were providing inadequate medical care to inmates, damaging their health.

Healthcare behind bars is so poor in some prisons that offenders are dying because staff do not respond properly to medical emergencies, the Care Quality Commission said.

Mental health services for the 40% of inmates who have psychological or psychiatric problems are particularly weak. This contributes to self-harming and suicides among prisoners, according to the CQC’s briefing to the Commons health and social care select committee.

A Prison Service spokesperson said: “The number of self-inflicted deaths in our prisons is too high which is why we have provided specialist training in suicide and self-harm prevention for over 17,000 staff and have recruited more than 4,000 extra officers.

“Prison staff provide support for over 2,500 vulnerable prisoners every day and we are rolling out a key worker scheme to make sure that each one has dedicated support from a specific officer.”

 This article was amended on 20 November 2018. A CQC briefing to a Commons committee was described as confidential, whereas it is in the public realm.

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