Prisons 'do not have enough staff to protect inmates from suicide and self-harm'

Campaigners say prison suicide and self-harm rates are a 'national disgrace'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Prisons do not have enough resources to protect vulnerable inmates from suicide and self-harm, a prison governor has warned.

Alison Clarke, governor of Glen Parva Young Offenders Institute in Leicester, issued the warning at the inquest of inmate Jake Foxall who died by suicide in November. The 19-year-old was jailed for theft. The jury at Leicester coroner's court was told he had a history of self-harm and the prison was aware of this, however documents relating to his mental health had not been properly reviewed and appropriate procedures were subsequently not in place to support him. They were also told he had experienced bullying inside the jail but the prison had failed to provide adequate support.

Questioned about staffing levels in the prison, Ms Clarke told the jury a “lack of resources from the Ministry of Justice prevented [her] staff from being able to adequately protect prisoners at risk of suicide and self-harm.” 

There have been 10 other deaths by suicide at Glen Parva since 2010.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “It is horrific that a prison governor has to admit she cannot even keep people alive because she does not have the staff.

“But, the key question never asked at an inquest when someone in prison takes their own life, is, why were they there in the first place? Why was a troubled teenager sent to prison for theft?”

Deborah Coles, Director of charity INQUEST which campaigns on deaths in custody said: “The situation at Glen Parva is a national disgrace and exemplifies a prison service in crisis. This month, INQUEST has supported two families through inquests into the deaths of their young sons, who died within 8 months of each other at HMP/YOI Glen Parva. Both inquests have concluded that systemic failures to address bullying ensure family contact and prevent self-harming by these first time prisoners played a significant role in their deaths."

A Prison Service spokesperson told The Independent: “Our sympathies are with Jake Foxall's family and friends. We will consider the findings of the inquest to see what lessons can be learned in addition to those from the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman's investigation. 

“Safety in prisons is fundamental to the proper functioning of our justice system and a vital part of our reform plans.”

In April, analysis of prison data by The Independent found incidents of suicide and self-harm have risen sharply in prisons since 2010. Hanging attempts have risen from 580 recorded in 2010 to 2,023 in 2015. Similarly, the number of recorded incidents of prisoners cutting themselves has risen from 15,159 in 2010 to 21,282 in 2015. Prison reform campaigners have raised concerns staff and budget cuts are pushing prisons past breaking point and creating an environment of chaos and violence.