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UK: The Howard League Reports - 'Preventing Prison Suicide'

6th December 2016

A series of reports have been published by the Howard League for Penal Reform and Centre for Mental Health as part of a joint programme aimed at saving lives in prison. The work explores how police, the judiciary, prisons and healthcare providers can collaborate to prevent people from taking their own lives in prison.

Report 4: Staff Perspectives

The final report  is based on interviews with health care staff working in prisons and those reviewing clinical care following suicide deaths. It finds that distress, self-harm and suicide attempts are on the rise.

The report recommends:

  • That all prisons to adopt a ‘stepped care’ approach in which the whole system is responsible for a prisoner’s wellbeing, and mental health support is available at every level of need;
  • That all prison staff to receive training and support to support not only prisoners’ wellbeing, but their own as well;
  • That robust risk assessments be carried out when a person arrives to the prison.

Report 3: Preventing Prison Suicide

This is the third in the series of reports published jointly by the Howard League for Penal Reform and Centre for Mental Health. The report states that urgent action is needed, and that prisons must become safer, healthier places to reduce suicide risk.

The report finds that the rise in the number of prison suicides has coincided with cuts to staffing and budgets and a rise in the number of people in prison, resulting in overcrowding. Violence has increased and safety has deteriorated.

The report also finds the use of solitary confinement is detrimental to prisoners’ health and wellbeing and increases the risk of suicide. It inherently reduces protective factors against suicide.

Prisoners are spending up to 23 hours a day locked in their cells, the imposition of prison punishments has increased, and a more punitive daily regime was introduced in prisons at the same time as the number of deaths by suicide began to rise.

The prison suicide rate, at 120 deaths per 100,000 people, is about 10 times higher than the rate in the general population. The report states that investing in staffing must go hand in hand with a reduction in the prison population if prisons are to be made safer.

Report 2: Perspectives from the Inside

This is the second in the series of briefings. It focuses on the views of people currently in (or with previous experience of) prison, exploring what contributes to vulnerability and risk of suicide in prison and makes recommendations, based on their views and experiences, about what would make a difference. The Centre for Mental Health worked with the charity User Voice to facilitate four focus groups – two in prison and two with former prisoners who had been released within the previous 12 months. 30 participants took part in the focus groups, including15 men and 15 women, of which six were former prisoners.

Report 1: The Cost of Prison Suicide

The emotional cost of suicide in prison is unquantifiable, but the report indicates that the financial cost to the taxpayer could be as much as £300million a year.

This research briefing is the first publication of its kind to examine the financial impact that a prisoner’s death by suicide can have on public services in England and Wales. It sets out how the response to a death in custody puts pressure on numerous services – including the prisons themselves, police and local authorities – and shows how that money could be better spent on measures to prevent people taking their own lives in the first place.

Learn more