Prison bullying linked to suicides in custody

More effective reporting and recording of bullying among prisoners must be implemented to reduce the number of suicides within custody, according to a report issued today.

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More effective reporting and recording of bullying among prisoners must be implemented to reduce the number of suicides within custody, according to a report today from the prisons and probation ombudsman (PPO) for England and Wales.

In June 2011, the PPO issued a report revealing evidence of bullying or intimidation from other prisoners in 20% of suicide cases in institutions.

Today’s report said that in one-fifth of these cases, staff were unaware of the incidents of bullying or intimidation by other prisoners until after the suicide had occurred.

Inadequate recording and reporting was highlighted as one problem along with high turnover rates of prisoners in local prisons, where half the suicide cases included evidence of bullying or intimidation prior to the death. The report said the instability in the local prison population made it more difficult for staff to build up relationships with prisoners.

Nigel Newcomen, PPO, said: “The need for better sharing of information is a recurring theme in our investigations into deaths in custody. We come across many examples where seemingly small pieces of information were known about a prisoner, but a lack of awareness of the relevance of this information meant that staff did not appreciate the important role that sharing it could play in improving a prisoner’s safety.”

Short-staffed institutions were also at higher risk of prisoner suicide, the report said, as staff were unable to carry out effective cell checks or observe prisoners’ behaviour as regularly as in well-staffed institutions.

The report also highlighted the need for prison staff to be aware of what types of prisoners would be more vulnerable to bullying. Sex offenders and prisoners on their first custodial sentence, for instance, were found to be particularly at risk.

The report said young offenders institutions and female prisons had the highest proportion of suicide cases in which evidence of bullying or intimidation was present.

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