Young man's cell death sparks big jail suicide inquiry three decks

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The Independent Online
A teenager awaiting trial has become the 69th person to commit suicide while in jail this year. The record death tolls, says Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent, has prompted the launch of a special inquiry in the New Year.

Ian Kerr, 18, was supposed to be in the hospital wing of Feltham Young Offenders Institution in west London, receiving treatment for an injury to his arm.

But when prison officers looked into his cell on Monday afternoon they found him hanging by his belt from a bunk bed.

Despite attempt to resuscitate him he was pronounced dead 55 minutes later. Facing charges burglary, actual bodily harm and possession of drugs, the youth, from Romford, Essex, had been remanded into custody and was due to spend Christmas behind bars.

His death brings the total number of suicides to a record total of 69 in jails in England and Wales, with a week left to go in 1997.

This year 16 male young offenders, 52 adult inmates, including two women, and one 18-year-old woman killed themselves while in the prison system. The toll has been rising from 41 in 1992, 47 in 1993, and 62 last year.

Next year Sir David Ramsbotham, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons is to carry out a special inquiry into suicides in jail.

In September Sir David severely criticised Feltham Young Offenders Institution for inmates aged under 21, describing it as "bursting at the seams" with a "disturbing" number of 15- and 16-year-olds being locked up. He said it had become a "gigantic transit camp" which was "grossly overcrowded" with more than 900 inmates.

The increasing numbers and shortage of resources made it incapable of tackling re-offending. A suicide last year was the first in four years at the jail. Four people took their lives in 1991-92.

An internal prison investigation has been set up into the death of Ian Kerr and a coroner's inquest will also be held.

The pressure group Inquest has been campaigning for years for the removal of vulnerable and young offenders from prison environment and to introduce new anti-suicide measures in prisons.

A spokeswoman said: "How many more deaths do we need before the authorities take some positive action?"

A spokesman for the Prison Service said Richard Tilt, the Director General, had asked Sir David to set up the inquiry. He added: "It must be remembered that the suicide rate is rising among the general public, and particularly among young males aged 16 to 35.

"Prison suicides have to be viewed in this context, as there are a large number of this age group in custody. We also have a record prison population - if you take that into account the overall rate is declining."

r Between eight and 12 new regional "correctional services" are to be set up to replace the existing probation system, it was said yesterday.

A Probation and Prisons Review will conclude that the regional centres are the best way of combining the work of the existing 54 probation services with the jail network.