Nigel Newcomen, the Prison and Probation Ombudsman, has released two critical reports following a rise of 71% in self-inflicted deaths in prison and has urged the prison authorities to improve how they risk assess, monitor and care for prisoners to help prevent suicides.

Statistics reveal that since November 2013, the number of self-inflicted deaths in prison has almost doubled compared to the same period the previous year.

Prison authorities were criticised for the level of care given to offenders who suffered from mental health problems.

The existing care plan for vulnerable prisoners – the Assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork Plan (ACCT)- was not “implemented properly” in half of the cases the Ombudsman had looked at.

Quite often, risks of self harm and suicide are not identified appropriately by prison staff and appropriate measures are not implemented, leading to tragic outcomes which could have been prevented.

In a recent case in which Farleys represented the family of a prisoner in HMP Manchester, failings were identified in the assessment and management of the deceased’s mental health. A Prevention of Future Death report was issued by the Coroner, urging the prison service to take action.

A Coroner has a duty to make such a report if their investigation reveals anything which gives rise to a concern that circumstances creating a risk of other deaths will occur or will continue to exist, and that action should be taken to prevent or eliminate or reduce the risk of death created by such circumstances.

These statistics are worrying and sadly highlight the same systemic failings that we come across in majority of prison deaths. In most of these cases, reports making recommendations are issued by the Coroner urging action to be taken at the highest levels, but yet we continue to see the same issues appearing and the number of deaths in prison increasing.

A Coroner can only recommend that action is taken meaning that at present, there is no effective mechanism in place to ensure action is taken and measures are implemented across the system to prevent further deaths occurring.

Here at Farleys we have a team specialising in deaths in custody and are able to advise and assist you throughout the investigation process. If you require assistance in participating in an Ombudsman investigation or in understanding an Ombudsman report you may have recently received, please contact us to speak to one of our specialists in this area.