The number of people dying in prison in unexplained, ‘unclassified’ circumstances has tripled in one year, the Howard League for Penal Reform has revealed.
Twenty-four people died in prisons during 2010 whose deaths were categorised as unclassified, which means the cause was homicide, accidental death, or sudden unexplained death.
Women were disproportionately represented, with five unclassified deaths in 2010, despite women making up just five per cent of the prison population. More than a third of all unclassified deaths were aged 40 or under.
Three prisons had two or more unclassified deaths: Albany, Brixton and Wandsworth.
Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the unexplained deaths in prison custody raised numerous questions: “In recent years the prison service has focused its attention on reducing the number of self-inflicted deaths in prison, and has had commendable success in limiting the number of deaths by suicide in recent years.
“Yet questions must be asked as to why the number of unexplained deaths has risen so sharply in 2010. In particular, whilst the symptoms of mental health that can lead to suicide and self-injury are being monitored more closely, is the same attention being paid to the physical health of prisoners?
“When relatively young adult men and women apparently drop dead in their cells, are staff missing symptoms that if recognised, might lead to those deaths being prevented? Or are prisons simply failing properly to record the detail of these deaths in custody?"
Frances Crook added: “It is particularly disturbing that a disproportionate amount of women are represented in these figures. I will be raising this at the next Ministerial Board on Deaths in Custody to seek answers.”