Prisons are meant to provide a safe form of detention for criminals and also, when possible, to help rehabilitate. However, a recent report has revealed that suicides and murders in British prisons for men are becoming an increasingly common problem.
Figures released by the Ministry of Justice show that suicides and murders in prisons in England and Wales could be heading to an all-time high. Last year there were four alleged homicides, the highest number since 1998. There were also 70 self-inflicted deaths, the most since 2008. In total 199 people died in prison in 2013.
Every year the number of men committing suicide and inflicting self-harm in prison increases. In 2013 there were five British prisons in which each saw three of its prisoners commit suicide.
The same trend is not being seen in female prisons, in fact, suicides in female prisons have fallen in the past year. This is attributed to new safety measures, which were recommended by the former Labour MP Lady Corston in a report published in 2007. The report was written following a sudden increase in female prisoner suicides in the UK. In 2003 there were six deaths in one prison alone.
The rights of prisoners to be detained in a safe and secure detention centre must be upheld. Those with medical needs, including mental health disorders, should have professional support.
Mental health problems
The Prison Reform Trust reported that mental health problems may be a major cause of prison suicides. Their data shows that around 26 per cent of women and 16 per cent of men were treated for a mental health problem before being sent to prison. Current statistics show that 62 per cent of all men in prison have a personality disorder of some description.
It seems that the problem of overcrowded prisons and prison suicides is linked with the lack of effective care for those with mental health disorders.
In 2013 an inspection report for Lindholme prison in South Yorkshire was very critical of the safety measures in place. More than one in three prisoners questioned said that they did not feel safe in the prison. Alcohol and drugs were also freely available at the prison.
In December 2013 a 22-year-old prisoner at Lindholme was stabbed to death by fellow prisoners. The two prisoners who allegedly attacked Michael Hennesy are due to stand trial for his murder.
Professor David Wilson, head of criminology at Birmingham City University and a former prison governor, believes that the problem is more related to problems with control and order inside prisons. He said: "This is the highest number of alleged murders since 1998 and it reflects deep structural problems about control and order inside our jails – not our most high-security jails, but every prison in which we currently lock people up."
All deaths are preventable
The Howard League for Penal Reform’s chief executive, Frances Crook, believes that almost all deaths in custody are preventable. She said: "The responsibility for an increase in the number of people who take their own lives in prison lies squarely with those who advocate putting behind bars more and more people who do not need to be there."
A Prison Service spokesman said: "We are committed to making sure prisons are safe and secure – this includes reducing the number of deaths and applying strenuous efforts to learn from each one."
Duncan Lewis is an expert in prison law and assists those who feel that their prison is not providing a safe and secure environment. Duncan Lewis can also assist with other difficulties an inmate may have during their stay in custody.