24th February 2016

On 15 February 2016 the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman warned the clues that prisoners may take their own lives are too often missed.  Known risk factors such as a history of suicidal behaviour or the circumstances of their offence are sometimes overlooked.

The Guardian newspaper commenting on the news referred to the recent deaths in custody of Michelle Barnes and Sarah Reed.  Barnes killed herself in a Prison in Durham 6 days after giving birth to a baby girl and shortly after being taken off suicide watch.  Reed was found dead in her cell while being held on remand in January 2015. She had told her family she fought back against a sexual assault while being held in a Psychiatric Hospital only to find herself charged with a serious assault.

The Ombudsman cited the case of a male who was charged with assault and remanded in Prison.  He had been released from the same Prison 6 months earlier and in the meantime had attempted suicide.  He had previously taken an overdose.  At Court it was recorded the male was at risk of suicide and he arrived at the Prison with a suicide and self harm warning form.  Despite his history Prison staff did not put into place the correct procedures.  The male did not stay in the Prison’s First Night and Induction Centre and was not given a health screening.  The male’s sister and also the male’s Probation Officer contacted the Prison to alert them to the risk of suicide.  The next day the male’s Solicitor faxed the Prison warning of the risk of suicide.  2 days later the male was found hanged in his cell.

The Ombudsman has listed a number of lessons to be learned including staff to identify, record and act on all known risk factors during reception and induction for all prisoners.

The Guardian reports that there were eighty nine apparent suicides in Prison custody in 2015.

Blog by Richard Hardy, Partner and Head of the Police Misconduct department