Styal prison mental health care faults led to Valerie Hayes’ death

Under-resourced mental health services and insufficient inter-departmental communication at HMP Styal led to the accidental death of inmate Valerie Hayes, a jury found last week.

The inquest into the death of Hayes heard that mental health services at the prison were “seriously under-resourced” leaving staff incapable of doing their jobs properly.

Hayes, who was on suicide watch at the time of her death and who had a history of drug use, mental health problems and self harm, was found hanging in the Care, Support and Reintegration Unit; a segregation unit used to discipline inmates and to house those who needed extra support.

On the day of her death, staff failed to remove a mattress cover used by Hayes to hang herself with; even though she was seen earlier that day ripping the cover up in her cell.

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST, a non-governmental legal organisation, said: “What this verdict demonstrates yet again is that the prison system is neither adequately resourced nor adequately managed in order to ensure the safety of the women in its care. Urgent action is needed to divert mentally ill women out of prisons which are incapable of meeting their complex needs.”

Since 2002, nine women have killed themselves while remanded or convicted at HMP Styal, of whom six died in 2002-3. 

Although the government published a review of vulnerable women in prison last March, in response to an earlier investigation into HMP Styal, it has not allocated resources to take forward the review’s recommendations.

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