'National scandal' six prisoners die a week, campaigners claim

22 January 2020, 08:02

The charity says the Government should "significantly" reduce the number of people behind bars
The charity says the Government should "significantly" reduce the number of people behind bars. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Campaigners have said as many as six prisoners die behind bars every week which they have called a "national scandal."

Figures from the charity INQUEST showed there were 308 deaths in prisons in the 12 months to September, almost six per week.

The charity said its research and analysis of official figures indicate "dangerous, long-standing failures" in prisons and "historically high levels of deaths in custody" and accused the government of failing to take action which could prevent deaths in prison.

According to the report, there were also 90 self-inflicted deaths - equating to a prisoner taking their life every four days - and 158 deaths due to "natural causes" as well as two homicides, according to the findings.

Campaigners also reviewed 61 inquests into deaths in prisons in England and Wales in 2018 and 2019.

The charity claims there have been "repeated" safety failures with mental and physical healthcare, communication systems, emergency responses, drugs and medication raised in its casework.

It also raised concerns about "rising" numbers of natural deaths which are found to relate to "serious failures in healthcare", adding: "The lack of government action on official recommendations is leading to preventable deaths."

Deborah Coles, director of INQUEST, said: "This report exposes indefensible levels of neglect and despair in prison.

"Officials and ministers repeat the empty words that 'lessons will be learned'.

"Yet the recommendations of coroners, the prison ombudsman and inspectorate are being systematically ignored. This is a national scandal."

The findings listed a string of recommendations to improve safety and prevent more deaths including:

- A watchdog to monitor and enforce the implementation of recommendations from investigations, inquests and inquiries on state-related deaths.

- "Significantly" reduce the number of people behind bars.

- More resources for health and welfare services.

Ms Coles added: "In the long term, protecting both prisoners and the public from more harm will require investment in our communities, not ineffective punitive policies."

She said bereaved families face a "struggle for truth, justice and change" after the report warned relatives have difficulties in accessing minimal legal aid for inquests while prisons "automatically receive millions in public funding".