Figures from the Ministry of Justice and the charity INQUEST show that deaths are on the rise in 10 of the most challenging prisons in England and Wales.

The government put in place a £10 million project to reduce violence in prisons, which would provide the ten toughest prisons in England with extra staff, a new team of experienced officers to provide support, x-ray body scanners, metal-detecting equipment and toilet traps to collect flushed contraband, as well as the funds being used to refurbish cells and communal areas.

Despite this, prisoner deaths increased by 20% in the first 11 months of the project.

Compared with the previous 12 months, the number of prisoner deaths rose from 34 to 41, with self-inflicted deaths increasing from 14 to 15. The number of homicides decreased from 3 to 0.

Out of the entire prison system in England and Wales, there were more than 300 deaths between June 2018 and June 2019.

Deaths at Wormwood Scrubs prison in West London increased whilst under the government’s prisons initiative, from 2 in the year before the project to 6 during its first 11 months.

Winston Augustine died in Wormwood Scrubs just after the start of the project, and his family have serious questions about how Winston was treated whilst in the prison, feeling disappointed with the lack of improvement following the initiative.

This is despite the number of inmates across the 10 prisons falling by 6% between July and December 2018 when compared with the same period in 2018. The number of prison staff during this time increased by 17%.

The scheme was introduced by the then prisons minister Rory Stewart in August 2018, with a promise to redesign the initiative by August 2019 if the number of assaults did not fall in the prisons. However, he has since become a backbencher.

INQUEST has condemned the initiative as a “fundamentally flawed vanity project” for failing to create a safe environment for prisoners. Deborah Coles, the director of INQUEST, said: “…this focus has abjectly failed to guarantee the health and safety of prisoners. Punitive regimes do not foster safety. They intensify the problems inside, alienate prisoners and reproduce the conditions that generate self-harm and self-inflicted deaths. They are more, not less, dangerous.”

A Prison Service spokesman said that each death in custody is taken very seriously and is independently investigated by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.

The number of assaults and positive drug tests across the 10 prisons decreased as a whole. The prisons minister, Lucy Frazer, has stated that she is encouraged by the results of the project and stated the government is using the initiatives that have worked to improve the rest of the estate, spending £100 million on airport-style security to stop the amount of mobile phones and drugs in prison. Boris Johnson recently pledged to spend a further £100 million in improving security, but this has been quickly dismissed.

The Inquest team at Farleys are experienced in dealing with deaths that arise in prison and understand how difficult and traumatic families often find the process, especially when it is often the case that they know so little of the circumstances surrounding the death of their loved one.

If you have experienced the loss of a loved one whilst they were in prison, our Inquest team will offer you advice and assistance throughout the process. Call 0845 287 0939 or send your enquiry through our online form.