Beds, Herts & Bucks

HMP Woodhill 'expanded training' to cut suicides

HMP Woodhill
Image caption HMP Woodhill was the prison with the highest suicide rate in England and Wales in the five years to 2017

A focus on mental health training is helping to turn a suicide-hit prison around, a governor has said.

Twenty men at HMP Woodhill have taken their lives since 2011 in total, a death rate described as "staggering" by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in June.

But there has only been one death since December 2016.

Governor Nicola Marfleet said more staff and a "range of training" in mental health issues had made a difference.

'Devastating period'

HMP Woodhill holds more than 600 men, mainly remand prisoners and those serving short sentences, alongside a small number of category A high-security prisoners.

Ms Marfleet said about 80% of the prisoners had mental health issues.

In the five years to 2017, it was the prison with the highest suicide rate in England and Wales with eight deaths in 2016 alone.

There were no deaths between 12 December 2016 and 10 May 2018.

Image caption Governor Nicola Marfleet said HMP Woodhill "finally had full staffing"

Ms Marfleet said that 2016 was "devastating" and since then more staff had been recruited and they were being trained in mental health issues.

She said after periods of being up to 80 officers down out of 340, they were "finally at full staffing figures".

"What I knew about mental health before I worked at Woodhill is far less than I know now. We've had a whole range of training... and we make sure every single man coming through our reception is seen by mental health," she said.

"We encourage our prison officers to play pool with the men because that builds up easy banter, that relationship that gives me hope when somebody is in crisis and needs help they will come and say," she said.

"I think there will always be risk of another death but one of the things we are doing is making sure that we can say we have done the best that we are able to do."

In September, an Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) inspection report blamed "high levels of boredom" for a rise in violence and self-harm at the prison.

Andy Baxter of the Prison Officers Association said "We welcome any additional training and support in dealing with any issues of self-harm and suicide.

"We feel the project in place at HMP Woodhill would be of benefit to the prison service if rolled out nationally."

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "The passion and the care that Nicola and her staff give to this is obvious.... New staff is absolutely the answer but it will take time... it takes years to learn those skills and get those instincts."

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