The Ministry of Justice has said that in 2016 there were 119 suicides – 29 more 2015 and the highest number since records began in 1978.
In addition to this there was a record high of 37,784 self-harm incidents and 25,049 assault incidents.
Justice Secretary Liz Truss said prisons faced “long-standing issues that will not be resolved in weeks”. She went on to say that the government was investing an extra £100 million into the prisons estate as well as hiring 2500 more officers.
Last year thousands of staff walked out in protest over various health and safety concerns with fears that the prison system was in “meltdown” due to overcrowding and staff shortages. As well as this a number of serious disturbances also broke out in prisons.
The Ministry of Justice statistics show that in the 12 months to September 2016 there were:
- Seven suicides at Woodhill, in Milton Keynes – the prison with the highest number
- Five in Bristol and four each in Bedford, Exeter, Humber, Leeds and Manchester prisons
- A record 354 deaths in custody overall – up by around a third from 2015
- Three apparent homicides – down from a record eight in 2015
- Nearly 70 assaults every day – the number of serious attacks was up 28%
- 6,430 assaults on staff – up 40% on 2015. Of these, 761 were classed as serious
Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said reducing the jail population was the “only realistic way to make our prisons safe in the foreseeable future”. He went on to add that “We know that the worst outcomes happen in overcrowded prisons.”
Prisons in England in Wales are at 98% capacity, with 85,058 inmates, according to the latest figures and of these inmates the majority are men.
Suicide rates in prisons have been described as a “national scandal” by Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform. She went on to suggest that the suicide rates in prisons in approximately 10 times that in the community. She highlighted the fact that this should not be happening and that people should be safe.
Deborah Coles, director of the charity INQUEST said the prison estate was a “broken system” unable to deal with prisoners’ problems, such as mental and physical ill health and addictions. INQUEST is a charity which works with inmates and their families. Southerns Inquest team works closely with INQUEST.
Professor Pamela Taylor, chairwoman of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ forensic faculty, said that the prison estates’ mental health teams were understaffed and struggling to help prisoners in what she describes as “desperate need”.
She said: “In many cases there is no-one available to escort prisoners to in-prison clinics; from time to time, even when a psychiatrist goes to a prisoner’s cell… there are not enough prison officers present and the cell door can’t be unlocked for safety reasons.”
Her comments followed the Prisons Ombudsman finding the criminal justice system “did too little to protect” a vulnerable inmate who electrocuted himself in prison.
The Ministry of Justice have suggested that the rise in assaults had coincided with major changes to the prison regime, operating arrangements and culture in prisons over the last five years.
It went on to point out that the “restructuring of the prison estate including staff reductions, which have reduced overall running costs, and an increasing awareness of gang culture and illicit psychoactive drugs in prisons”.
The Ministry of Justice also added: “As well as the dangers to both physical and mental health, trading in these illicit drugs can lead to debt, violence and intimidation.”
Justice Secretary Liz Truss said she had taken “immediate action” to stabilise the prison estate by tackling issues such as drugs and the use of phones that undermined security.
She further added: “These are long-standing issues that will not be resolved in weeks or months but our wholesale reforms will lay the groundwork to transform our prisons, reduce reoffending and make our communities safer.”
In November, Ms Truss unveiled a White Paper detailing a £1.3bn investment in new prisons over a period of five years, with plans for extra officers, drug tests and more independence for governors.
The move followed calls from prison governors for an independent public inquiry into the increase in violence and suicides in jails.
If you have lost a loved one, we understand that the following investigation and Inquest proceedings can be upsetting and difficult to navigate. Here at Southerns Solicitors, we can help to guide you through the process providing you and your family with the support that you require. Call a member of our experienced team for advice.
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