Britain’s prison suicide crisis: ‘There’s no political will. Dead prisoners do not win votes’

Almost 10 prisoners a month kill themselves in UK jails, with much of the blame placed on neglect and costcutting. That is what led to the death of Dean Saunders, according to his family – and a jury has agreed.

About two weeks before Dean Saunders killed himself in his prison cell, a manager from the private company running healthcare in the prison was heard to express concerns about the cost of keeping prisoners under constant suicide watch, according to evidence presented at his inquest. Monitoring of Saunders’s cell was subsequently reduced. On 4 January 2016, in between the checks made on his cell, he succeeded in taking his own life. An inquest into his death last week concluded that “financial consideration” had played a “significant” part in the decision to reduce the level of observations.

But so many other things went wrong during the 18 days Saunders was in prison that this catastrophic decision was just one of many that led to the death of a seriously ill young father who had never previously been to jail, and should not have been in prison. The jury found neglect contributed to his death.

Last year, a record number of prisoners committed suicide in jails in England and Wales, with at least 113 recorded, nearly 10 a month (the number may prove higher still when the Ministry of Justice releases the final figures on Thursday). Campaigners for prison reform see this as the inevitable consequence of the overcrowded, underfunded and understaffed prison system. Despite a multitude of damning inquest verdicts, excoriating prison inspection reports and thoughtful reviews into what should be done, there has been no concerted action to address the issue.

“There’s no political will. Dead prisoners do not win votes,” Deborah Coles, the director of the deaths in custody campaign group Inquest, says wearily, acknowledging that she is angry at the soaring numbers and exhausted by the lack of progress.

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