Howard League condemns 37% hike in prison suicides

The Howard League for Penal Reform today condemned a 37% rise in prison suicides in 2007, which it blamed on overcrowding and a lack of support for vulnerable prisoners.

The Ministry of Justice revealed yesterday there were 92 apparent self-inflicted deaths among English and Welsh prisoners last year, up from 67 in 2006. Seven offenders under the age of 21 killed themselves, up from just two in 2006, including Liam McManus, who was found hanging in his cell at Lancaster Farms Young Offender Institution on 29 November, 2007.

Howard League director Frances Crook said: “Staff and resources are strained to the limit coping with an ever-swelling prison population rife with mental health problems, drug and alcohol addiction and histories of neglect and abuse.”

The campaign group said that in just 21 of 88 cases it analysed were prisoners being monitored on suicide watch, as part of the Assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork care planning system.

The hike follows two years in which prison suicides have fallen from a recent peak of 95 in 2004.

Prisons minister Maria Eagle said: “I sincerely regret this year’s increase in self-inflicted deaths after the significant decreases of recent years.”

She pointed to a review, commissioned last month by the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health, into diverting offenders with severe mental health problems into more appropriate facilities than prisons. The review, chaired by former Home Office minister Lord Bradley, is expected to report this summer.

Last September, the Forum for Preventing Deaths in Custody, a 15-strong coalition including the Prison Service and campaign group Inquest, said around 600 people died in custody each year, in its first annual report.

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