Prisoner deaths: Warning over young inmates

  • 29 October 2015
  • From the section UK
Prison interior

Young people will "continue to die unnecessarily" in jail unless ministers act on recommendations in a report into self-inflicted deaths, its author says.

Lord Harris said he was "frustrated" by the lack of action after his review of self-inflicted deaths among 18-24-year-olds, submitted over six months ago.

The report said rehabilitation was failing and recommended more help for young inmates, including from family.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said the report was being considered.

A spokesman said the MoJ would "respond in the autumn".

A "self-inflicted death" is defined by the MoJ as a suicide or "accidental deaths as a result of the person's own actions".

'No sign'

Lord Harris's report - Changing Prisons, Saving Lives - was submitted to the Ministry of Justice in April then published in July.

It said a combination of overcrowding, escalating violence and fewer staff and resources had contributed to creating unsafe environments.

His recommendations included each young inmate having a member of staff who could support them through the rehabilitative process, and families of inmates maintaining a supportive role throughout the induction process.

Lord Harris said there was "still no sign of a government response" to his recommendations.

'Waste countless millions'

"Indeed the Ministerial Board on Deaths in Custody has yet to consider the review," he said.

"I was disinvited from last week's meeting of the ministerial board to present it 'as the agenda was looking very full'."

The peer added: "Delaying action until the resource position is easier is not an option.

"It would mean young people continue to die unnecessarily in our prisons and we will continue to waste countless millions of pounds in failing to rehabilitate those who could be rehabilitated, in locking up those for whom a non-prison option would be more appropriate."

'Radio silence'

Deborah Coles, who runs the charity Inquest, which provides information and support to families who have lost relatives in custody, said: "There has been a radio silence from the government which is shocking."

Ms Coles, who gave evidence to the review, added: "The self-inflicted deaths have continued. There have already been 69 this year - 12 of which have been 24 and under - and the same concerns and questions keep coming up."

Earlier this week, a survey on behalf of the Prison Governors Association suggested that two-fifths of the 1,000 members questioned would look for another job if conditions in jails stayed the same.

The MoJ said: "Every death in custody is a tragedy and the justice secretary has thanked Lord Harris of Haringey and the Independent Advisory Panel for their work on this important review.

"The independent report makes wide-ranging recommendations about the care and management of vulnerable young adults in custody to reduce the risk of future deaths.

"These are being considered carefully and we will respond in the autumn."

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