The Howard League for Penal Reform has today welcomed a drop in suicide figures in 2006, but warned that local prisons remain the worst hit for suicides among their inmates.
Frances Crook, Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This Easter weekend, we can be grateful that 2006 saw the fewest prison suicides in a decade.
“Even so, I am still extremely concerned that last year, just like every year since 2000, at least two-thirds of suicides were in local prisons: the most overcrowded and hard pressed.
“48 prisoners killed themselves in local prisons last year. Of these, 22 men on remand or awaiting sentence killed themselves - as well as a further six men who had their licenses revoked.
“The uncertainty and fear people experience when they first go to a prison make them extremely vulnerable. Despite the many initiatives - like multi-disciplinary teams monitoring vulnerable prisoners and providing more training for staff - local prisons continue to bear the brunt of suicides.
“Currently women’s prisons have first night centres to reduce the distress experienced when people first go to a prison. I believe that these centres should be rolled out to all men’s local prisons if the government is serious about preventing suicides in custody.
“We would like to see a dedicated wing or unit in every local prison, where all new prisoners would spend their first 48 hours in custody. With specialist staff, support and assistance from fellow prisoners, and contact with families and children, such first night centres could make a real contribution to saving lives.”
While the pattern for suicides in local prisons remains a cause for concern, the overall picture has some better news to tell. Last year, 64 men and 3 women killed themselves in prisons in England and Wales. This was a 14 per cent reduction on 2005.
Frances Crook said: “These figures are a reflection of the hard work of prison staff up and down the country and the great efforts that have been made to improve the treatment of vulnerable people in custody. Staff resuscitated more than 100 prisoners last year after serious self-harm incidents.
“The reduction in the number of suicides has occurred despite the immense pressure on the prison system due to record numbers of inmates. That pressure will not relent and the Prison Service must do all it can to ensure one year’s drop in the figures becomes a developing trend.”