LSESU calls urgent meeting to debate growing number of deaths in English and Welsh prisons

If motion passes, students could put pressure on the Government to 'urgently implement policies' 

Aftab Ali
Student Editor
Monday 29 February 2016 15:35 GMT
London School of Economics
London School of Economics (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

A students’ union has called an urgent meeting to debate whether it should call on the Government to look into “the safety and welfare crisis” in the UK’s prisons.

The London School of Economics Students’ Union (LSESU) has announced it is to debate the motion at an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) on Tuesday to look into whether to pressure ministers to urgently implement policies to deal with the number of deaths occurring behind bars.

Brought forward by anthropology and law student, Durgesh Hari Prabu - and seconded by Alice Moscicki, who studies prison policy at the university - the motion has made reference to The Howard League for Penal Reform - the oldest penal reform charity in the UK - which recently highlighted how, in total, 257 people died in prisons in England and Wales last year.

As well as this, the LSESU also said that, according to statistics from INQUEST - another charity which provides free advice to people bereaved by a death in custody and detention - 89 of those deaths were suicides, one was from prison officer restraint, and eight were homicides, “the highest level of homicides since records began,” says the motion.

There have also been 50 deaths in prisons this year, so far, show INQUESTS’s stats.

On the whole, INQUEST’s stats have shown the number of deaths per year in both countries’ prisons has doubled in the last 20 years, overall, quintupling since 1990.

LSESU has said it believes the right to life and freedom from torture should “extend to all persons, regardless of whether they have their liberty or are in the custody of the state.”

The union adds: “Prison should be a place of rehabilitation, learning, and personal development and no-one should enter prison fearing for their life or well-being.

“The ever-increasing numbers of deaths and assaults in our prison system is the result of overcrowding and a lack of: time outside cells, rehabilitation facilities, adequate healthcare provision, sufficient educational and training opportunities, and sufficient action to protect vulnerable prisoners and identify prisoners who pose a threat to others.”

The meeting will, therefore, aim to “condemn the continued dramatic increase of violence” in prisons, adding: “This union resolves for the General Secretary to write to, and publicly call on, Michael Gove as the Secretary of State for Justice to urgently implement policies to reduce the number of deaths and assaults in our prison system, and to urge him to denounce anything less than zero deaths and assaults as unacceptable.”

Chief executive at The Howard League for Penal Reform, Frances Crook, described how the numbers are hiding “the true extent of misery for prisoners and families” - and for staff, who have been given the “impossible task” of keeping people safe in “overcrowded prisons starved of resources.”

She said: “The question now for the Ministry of Justice is: what to do? This level of deaths, violence, and anguish in prisons cannot continue to rise in a civilised society.

“We cannot go on cramming more people into jails without any thought for the consequences.”

The topic of prison reforms have seen two recent parliamentary debates in the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

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