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Prisons bishop calls for action after suicide report

02 December 2016


DATA that suggests that more than 350 prisoners in the UK have died as a result of suicide in the past four years is “deeply disturbing” and “dreadful” for prison staff and families, the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, has said.

Bishop Langstaff, who is Bishop to HM Prisons, was responding to a joint report, Preventing Prison Suicide, published by the Howard League for Penal Reform, and the Centre for Mental Health, on Mon­day. It states that 102 self-inflicted deaths have been recorded so far in 2016, up from 76 in 2013. Leeds Prison recorded the highest number of suicides — 11, in this time — and Woodhill Prison, in Milton Keynes, recorded six deaths this year alone.

”It is symptomatic of the pressure on the system,” Bishop langstaff said on Wed­nesday. “Staffing levels are part of the issue: they are under pres­sure, and prisoners need op­­portunities to be engaged in pro­ductive and purposeful activ­ities, learning skills and trade; those are things that turn people around and prevent re­­­offend­ing.”

Preventing Prison Suicide is the latest in a series of reports calling for “urgent action” from the Gov­ern­ment. It estimates that one prisoner dies as a result of suicide every three days in the UK, and recommends that prisons should better reflect a “normal life” of productivity, companionship, and exercise, to prevent further deaths.

It also calls on the Government to scrap the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) scheme, as well as the use of solitary confinement, which it says are having a “detri­mental impact” on the well-being of prisoners. Inmates’ spending up to 23 hours a day locked in their cells, as punishment, “inher­ently reduces protective factors against suicide”, it says.

The number of prisoners dying by suicide increased by more than 50 per cent from 2011 to 2015. The report suggests that, in this time, the number of prison places in the UK was reduced by about 5000, while the prison population had increased by about 2000.

Staffing and budget cuts have also led to an increase in violent in­­cidents and deterioration of safety, it says; investigations into self-infl­icted deaths in prison must be conducted and sufficient action taken.

“It is not always just a matter of funding, but of availability staff in certain areas of the country,” Bishop Langstaff said. “The government are putting money into staffing which is good but recruitment needs to be pushed.”

The crisis has reached “epidemic proportions”, and has created a “toxic mix of violence, death, and human misery”, the chief executive of the Howard League, Frances Crook, said.

The deputy chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, Andy Bell, said: “We must recognise that many prisoners are highly vulner­able, and that being imprisoned is a traumatic event that can have devastating consequences without the right help and support.”


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