‘Troubling’ rise in number of prison suicides

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THE number of suicides in jails in England and Wales increased by a “troubling” 64 per cent last year, the prisons complaints watchdog said.

In his annual report, Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Nigel Newcomen said the increase reflected the level of mental-ill health in prisons, and “a rising toll of despair” among some prisoners.

Mr Newcomen said it suggested the need for the Prison Service to review its suicide and self-harm procedures.

Some 90 inmates took their own lives in the year 2013/14, up from 55 the previous year.

Paul Tate was found in his cell at Holme House Prison, in Stockton, in September, days after he appeared in court accused of killing John “Jonty” Hall.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “If the tragic and rapid rise in the number of self-inflicted deaths in custody does not wake ministers up to the damage drastic cuts, and rushed policy decisions are doing to the prison service, and the people in its care it is hard to know what will.

“It’s time to reserve prison for the most serious and violent offenders and to ensure that, wherever possible, people who are mentally ill are diverted into the care and treatment they so urgently need.”

Prisons minister Andrew Selous said: “Reducing the number of self-inflicted deaths in custody is a key priority and we are working hard to understand the reasons for the recent rise – but there is no simple explanation.

“We have a high proportion of people with mental-health issues in the prison population and, as the case in society, the reasons behind any suicide are complex and individual.”