UK: prison suicides and how to stop them

Once upon a time, in 2013, in England and Wales, there were 76 people known to have died by suicide in prison. This was a higher rate of such deaths than in the general population. It concerned everyone who tried to make prisons safe. We have evidence of a higher than average rate of mental disorder among prisoners. We also need to take special account of people with learning disabilities or severe developmental disorders, who may find it exceptionally hard to express their needs. All this made us think that, with service improvements, we could reduce the in-prison suicide rate, but health services can only do so much.

In 2013, over £56 million of public money was spent on severance pay for prison officers; in the previous three years it was £3-6million per annum. Across the prison estate in England and Wales, as the prison population continued to rise, prison officer numbers fell by over 40%. By November 2016 there were nearly 86,000 people in prison.

In the year to November 2016 over 100 people had died by suicide in prison. The new release of suicide figures confirms the full scale of this tragedy for prisoners and their families. In addition, at least 4,000-5,000 prisoners self-harm each year, with numbers also rising. There is also concern about homicide, assaults and other unrest in prisons in England and Wales, but let’s focus on suicide.

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