The Howard League for Penal Reform has released a ground-breaking study into people who die while under supervision by the Probation Service, either on community sentences or once they have left prison.
The study, Deaths on Probation, reveals that between 2005 and 2010, 2,275 men and 275 women died while under probation supervision. Of these, just a quarter were reported as having died of natural causes, with suicide accounting for at least one in eight and alcohol issues one in thirteen.
Evidence in the report suggests that probation staff are recording deaths simply as a bureaucratic exercise rather than to help them understand why people are dying under their supervision and what can be done to prevent future deaths. One in eight deaths under supervision was listed as of ‘unknown cause’, suggesting valuable information is being lost.
The report calls for a return to the core values of what it means to supervise people who have committed crime: making bureaucracy less of a priority and making looking after some of the most vulnerable people in our society their number one objective. This means not just helping them to turn their backs on lives of crime, but also caring for their welfare needs and giving them some hope for the future.
The report highlighted specific examples of people who had been let down while under supervision. These included a man murdered after not having been given permission to travel out of an area where his life was known to be under threat and a suicidal homeless man who was found dead in a park three weeks after his release, despite the fact multiple agencies knew of his problems.
Commenting, Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The state has a moral responsibility to look after people in its care. It’s particularly important that, as the government moves towards a payment-by-results system for probation, results don’t just look at whether someone reoffends or not. This system must also make sure each person is safe, secure, healthy and ready to re-enter their community as an individual able to lead a full life free from crime. We can’t simply treat people as if they were commodities for sale to the highest bidder, but we must understand their complex relationships and the lives they lead.”
Report authors Prof Loraine Gelsthorpe and Nicola Padfield, from the University of Cambridge, said: “Our analysis has highlighted that not enough is known about deaths under probation supervision. It focused on a relatively new area in terms of the data collected as only limited information about these deaths is routinely put into the public domain. There needs to be much more known about the circumstances surrounding deaths on probation supervision so that it is possible to learn from them."
Theyconcluded: “We hope that this report will provoke some critical thinking and generate increased concern about policy and practice regarding the most vulnerable people in this country.”