Headlines: February 9th, 2005

Sending fewer offenders to prison and using community sentences instead would save hundreds of lives, according to the Howard League for Penal Reform. Its annual analysis of prison suicides, published today, shows that prisoners killed themselves in 52 prisons in England and Wales last year.In 13 of the institutions there were three or more deaths and the League says scores of other prisoners were resuscitated after attempting to take their own lives. It blames a lack of purposeful activity in prisons.

The figures show that three prisoners committed suicide in each of 11 prisons. There were five suicides in Shrewsbury and 6 in Manchester. The analysis also reveals that a 14-year-old boy took his own life in a secure training centre. Of the 95 prisoners who died, 13 were women.

The analysis reveals that more than half of all deaths occur in local prisons and high suicide rates are associated with lower levels of purposeful activity in prisons. It also shows that about 200 people are resuscitated from serious suicide attempts each year and some never fully recover. A quarter of prison suicides happen within a week of arrival at a prison and a half of them occur within the first month.

Of the people who died only seven had been identified as being at risk of suicide at the time they killed themselves. More than half – 57 per cent – of those who take their lives are in prison are on remand, even though remand prisoners make up only 19 per cent of the jail population.

Frances Crook, director of the Howard League says the death rate in prisons is a continuing stain on our democracy. “Far too many people find prison intolerable and are dying as a direct consequence of our love affair with punishment and incarceration. Our society would benefit if we used prison less and got people to make amends in the community, and we would save hundreds of lives, ” she adds.