Prison inquiry after mother kills herself

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The Independent Online

The Prison Service has launched an urgent investigation into the suicide of a female prisoner - the seventh death in such circumstances in two months in Britain's jails.

The Prison Service has launched an urgent investigation into the suicide of a female prisoner - the seventh death in such circumstances in two months in Britain's jails.

The inquiry is expected to focus on why Rebecca Smith, a mother of two, was not placed on suicide watch despite a long history of mental illness. The 40-year-old was found in her cell at HMP Buckley Hall in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, with a plastic bag tied around her head by a shoelace. She had been placed alone in a cell.

Ms Smith, who was serving a three-and-a-half-year sentence for arson, had spent years being treated on psychiatric wards for severe depression after a childhood spent in care. She was often in pain as a result of injuries sustained after throwing herself off a building. Her lawyer told The Independent on Sunday that Ms Smith should have been placed in a secure psychiatric unit, but no places were available locally so she was sent to jail instead.

Her death highlights the crisis facing prison officials over how to improve conditions for female prisoners. This newspaper reported last week that an unprecedented number of female prisoners have taken their lives this year. There have already been nine deaths since January, compared with 2003 when 14 women killed themselves - a record number for any given year.