It is alarming to read recently published figures from the Ministry of Justice that reveal deaths by suicide in prison have increased by 32% over the last year. In simple terms this equates to one prison suicide occurring every three days. Self-harm incidents have also risen over the last year.
The ‘safer in custody’ statistics show that violence within prisons has increased dramatically with a 40% rise in assaults on staff and a 28% increase in prisoner-on-prisoner assaults. Shockingly, this equates to an average of 65 assaults a day across the prison system.
Publication of these figures comes at a time when recent inquests have been reported in the press almost daily highlighting the inadequacies of the prison system and shortcomings in care, particularly of those suffering from mental health problems. It further comes at a time when there have been further cuts to staffing levels and budgets.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists said the fact that prison suicides were at record levels was tragic, but it was only one of the most serious consequences of the last government’s decision to cut prison staffing while prisoner numbers were rising.
The Ministry of Justice have launched an internal inquiry into the mental health backgrounds of prisoners who killed themselves as a result of the 2016 record high for self-inflicted deaths across prisoners in England and Wales.
We have seen many examples from our own cases over the last 12 months where staff and professionals in prisons have failed to act upon clear indicators of a prisoner’s risk of self-harm, failed to share crucial information and failed to refer prisoners for urgent mental health assessments and treatment. The jury who heard the inquest into the death of Ainslie Rush who died at HMP Ranby in 2015 found that staff at the prison had failed to take adequate steps to monitor and protect him at a time where a significant deterioration in his mental health was obvious. Evidence was heard at the inquest into the death of Mark Cathorne who died at HMP in October 2015 that a number of officers who had contact with him knew little about his mental health. Indeed, some officers were not aware of his diagnosis of Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder despite him being under the care of a Consultant Psychiatrist and having regular psychiatry appointments.
In response to the latest statistics the justice secretary, Elizabeth Truss, said: “Since becoming justice secretary, I have been clear that the violence, self-harm and deaths in our prisons are too high.
These are longstanding issues that will not be resolved in weeks or months but our wholescale reforms will lay the groundwork to transform our prisons, reduce reoffending and make our communities safer.”
In many of these cases recommendations are made to prevent similar deaths occurring in the future however it is concerning that despite repeated recommendations arising from deaths in prison, inspections, numerous reviews, and campaigns for a better system, these figures continue to rise. Only time will tell what action the Government takes in addressing the long overdue reforms to the prison system to ensure that these preventable deaths do not continue to occur.
Farleys’ Inquest Solicitors have many years experience in acting on behalf of families whose loved ones have died in prison. If you require advice and assistance in connection with an inquest contact Farleys’ specialist team today on 0845 287 0939 or submit your enquiry online.