Jail suicides on increase

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The Independent Online

The growing number of suicides in jail - particularly among the young - has prompted calls for a full inquiry into prison care.

Last year, 60 people committed suicide in the country's 136 prisons. In the first few weeks of this year, 11 prisoners have killed themselves - including one man who died after a 98-day hunger strike.

In the past five years, 301 people have taken their own lives in prison. Half of them had not been convicted of any offence and were in jail on remand. Two out of five were under 21, including three 15-year- olds and three 16-year-olds. Some, like Karl Tout, 19, and Brendan Tremble, 18, who hanged themselves within days of each other in January 1994, were on remand for petty theft.

The Howard League, the prisons reform pressure group which published the figures, said yesterday that neither building new jails nor the introduction of privately run jails had led to safer prisons for the vulnerable. Since 1990, there have been 36 suicides in new jails and seven in private jails.

Frances Crook, director of the Howard League, said: "It is scandalous that so many prisoners continue to take their lives in prison. The Home Secretary's policies of encouraging the profligate use of penal custody is resulting in youngsters and vulnerable people dying."

Prison Watch, a group which monitors deaths in custody, called for a full inquiry, claiming the death toll points to the total failure of existing anti-suicide strategies, inadequate medical and psychiatric supervision and excessive use of imprisonment for unconvicted remand prisoners.

n The prison population is set to rise by another 1,000 as a direct result of the prison drug- testing programme, at a cost to the taxpayer of about pounds 25m a year, according to probation officers. Random drug testing in prisons last month - the first month tests have been carried out throughout the system - resulted in 1,300 prisoners with positive results being ordered to serve an average 12 days extra on their sentences.