Deceased prisoner’s relatives taking the law into their hands –
Last month, Michael and I went to visit the Ministry of Justice in London, to discuss ways of getting SOS Silence of Suicide into the prison environment for the benefit of all prisoners. We had a productive meeting and are still in discussions with the MOJ about how the benefits and effectiveness of SOS can be reproduced within the penal system and we will update you as soon as we are able – however, be assured, we do not give up and will be pushing hard for assistance and support for inmates within all prisons from whatever sources maybe available, including our own.
Currently, the figures for suicide and self harm within prisons are escalating to frightening levels. There are multiple factors why this might be and as always, the issues and the reasons behind them are complex. Michael and I strongly recommend you read the information on the Prisons and Courts Bill, which has now moved to committee stage following its second reading in the House of Commons last month and which is full of facts and figures which really will open your eyes to the extent of the problem. The link to the report is: https://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2017/march/prisons-and-courts-bill/
So it was not surprising that today in the Guardian Online, there is an article about prisoner’s relatives who are, quite literally, taking the law into their own hands by mounting a legal challenge against the Governor of HMP Woodhill, Milton Keynes, where 18 prisoners have died by suicide since 2013. These deaths are “despite repeated recommendations and guidance from coroners’ reports and official bodies that investigate deaths in custody.” (Guardian Online, Owen Bowcott)
Two families affected will seek to ensure the Courts order Liz Truss, Justice Secretary, and the Governor of HMP Woodhill (which, in 2016, had the highest death by suicide rate amongst all prisons) to take urgent action.
The following highlighted text has been taken from the Guardian online article and is their original work:
“The judicial review, to be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, is being supported by Inquest, the organisation that helps relatives at coroners’ courts. Inquest says it is concerned about the lack of a national oversight mechanism to monitor, audit and follow up actions taken in response to recommendations by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and coroners.
Deborah Coles, the director of Inquest, said: “The number of self-inflicted deaths occurring in prisons in England and Wales is currently at record levels. It is therefore more vital than ever that preventative actions are identified, changes implemented, and sustained improvements enforced to prevent future deaths.
“The current system for learning lessons and implementing changes arising from deaths in custody is not fit for purpose; it does not adequately prevent future deaths, meet the hopes and needs of bereaved families, or satisfy the wider public interest.
“The deplorable situation at HMP Woodhill is just one stark example of a much wider national problem. Deaths occur time and again as a result of repeated failings. Families are told that lessons will be learned, but nothing changes. The reality is that the Ministry of Justice has wholly failed to address the unacceptable rise in self-inflicted deaths.””
SOS Silence of Suicide is a perfect vehicle to drive into the prison environment. The benefits of talking cannot be under estimated. By its nature, it provides a safe and understanding platform which reassures and encourages people, helping to free them from the isolation and stigma mental health issues can create. What is more, it doesn’t bleed the NHS of much needed funds, being one of the most cost effective models that could be implemented.
We are aware from our meeting that the MOJ fully recognise past failings and current deficiencies and are treating suicide and self harm within prisons with the urgency and dedication the situation requires. But on the back of this report today, we shall be writing to them again over the weekend, stressing the need for the immediate implementation of a pilot scheme for SOS Silence of Suicide, or a similar initiative.
Without sturdy and immediate intervention, the suicide and self harm rates will continue to rise, forcing yet more deceased prisoner’s relatives to fight for improvements within a system that is failing miserably.