Prison suicides rise cause for concern

Lancaster Farms.'Inside the prison grounds.
Lancaster Farms.'Inside the prison grounds.

Staff cuts at Lancaster Farms and other prisons are partly to blame for a steep rise in inmate suicides, says a spokesman for the prison workers’ trades union.

Of 82 prisoners who took their own lives last year in England and Wales – making it the highest level for suicide behind bars for seven years – one was incarcerated in Lancaster Farms.

Responding to the Ministry of Justice figures, Glyn Travis, assistant general secretary for Profession Trades Union for Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers (POA), said he believed staff cuts had had a “significant impact.”

He said: “They need to take staff back and realise that vulnerable prisoners need protection to ensure we have got the right staff in the right places at the right time.

“But I do believe if they reduce staff it would tip Lancaster Farms in the wrong direction and we don’t want to be a union who consistently has to tell National Offender Management Service (NOMS) we told you so.”

HM Prison Lancaster Farms, on Stone Row Head, holds 487 young offenders in total. Suicides in English and Welsh prisons last year included 14 young adults, aged between 18 and 24. In total, 235 people died in prisons in England and Wales during 2014.

More than 120 prisoners died of natural causes, and a further 24 deaths are yet 
to be classified by authorities.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “No one should be so desperate whilst they are in the care of the state that they take their own life. The numbers hide the true extent of misery inside prisons and for families.

“It is evident that people are dying as a direct result of the cuts to the number of staff, particularly more experienced staff, in every prison.

The Howard League and Centre for Mental Health is to embark on a joint programme of work on suicides in prison, supported by The Monument Trust, designed to find 
ways to end the death toll for good.