Number of detainees in England and Wales on suicide watch increases

The number of detainees put on suicide or self-harm watch has risen significantly over the past decade, a Guardian investigation has found, as experts warn the scale of the psychological health crisis in prisons has actually escalated throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

There were 15,615 detainees placed on ACCT (evaluation, care in custody and team effort) plans– which are designed to manage those at risk of suicide or self-harm– during the very first half of 2020, just 10% less than the figure for the whole of 2010.

Data acquired from the Ministry of Justice exposes that throughout 2019, the last full year for which figures were readily available, 27,389 individuals in prisons in England and Wales were put on ACCT strategies.

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That is an increase of almost 60% on the 17,314 placed on a plan in 2010. The high increase in numbers comes despite the average yearly prison population having actually fallen slightly over that period, from 84,725 in 2010 to 82,935 in 2019.

Detainees and jail personnel have raised the alarm that the mental health crisis in jails has actually been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has actually led to detainees being restricted to their cells for most of the day, and restrictions on visits and detainee education programmes.

Mick Pimblett, the assistant basic secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association, stated the prison system was overwhelmed with detainees with mental illness. “Although Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) have actually attempted to deal with the problem by designating mental health specialists within prisons, in impact they are just putting a plaster on a broken leg,” he stated.

” Prison officers are provided psychological health awareness training however this is insufficient for the task that they carry out. Due to the fact that of this our members are continually confronted with violence, self-harm and suicide from frustrated prisoners, which is having a negative impact on staff psychological health.”

Figures published by the Ministry of Justice last month revealed there were 58,870 self-harm events in prisons in the 12 months to September 2020, down 5% from the previous 12 months. That figure consisted of a 7% decrease in male prisons and a 8% increase in female jails.

In the most recent quarter, nevertheless, there were 14,167 self-harm events, up 9% on the previous quarter. That represented a 5% boost of these incidents in male prisons and a 24% boost in female prisons. There were 67 suicides in the 12 months to December 2020 and 85 in the previous 12 months.

Deborah Coles, the director of Inquest, a charity that provides advice and assistance to families of those who die in custody, stated it was important to remember that the high figures for people on suicide and self-harm watch represented “genuine people in severe distress”. She said: “Jails create and worsen psychological ill-health. At a time of such restrictive and dehumanising routines this is even more severe.”

When the pandemic hit the UK in March, prisons were placed under a seriously restrictive regime, which minimized the time invested out of cells to about 30 minutes a day and limited visits from loved ones. In October, the outbound chief inspector of jails in England and Wales stated securing detainees in what totaled up to solitary confinement under Covid limitations risked triggering permanent damage to their psychological health.

Peter Clarke said the government needs to see the crisis as an opportunity to “reset the aspirations for what prisons could be about” which, regardless of the pandemic, underlying systemic issues of drug use, violence and self-harm, had actually not gone away.

Nick Hardwick, the former chief inspector of prisons and teacher at Royal Holloway, University of London stated the mental health crisis in prisons had 2 source: the degeneration in conditions inside prisons, which he said started with drastic cuts to staffing in the early years of the union federal government and the departure of lots of knowledgeable experts; and the reality that those with pre-existing mental health conditions were being given custodial sentences instead of treatment, which itself can be linked to an absence of resources in mental healthcare.

” There is an entire chain of events, which causes people whose standard concern is a health one, being treated by the criminal justice system,” he said.

” You’ve got to take a look at the concern [of psychological ill-health in jails] from both sides. Why are these people winding up in prison in the first location? Why aren’t they getting the care and assistance they need in the neighborhood? And when they do wind up in prison– where you have actually got this hard unstable mix of detainees– there are decreased resources offered to care for them.”

ACCT plans are opened for prisoners who are recognized as being at risk of suicide and self-harm, and can be in place for a variety of days, or– in some cases– months and years. The plans require personnel to take certain steps to guarantee somebody is safe, consisting of routine observations.

Peter Dawson, a former jail guv and the director of the Prison Reform Trust stated the reality that the variety of ACCT plans being opened was rising showed what “jails are being asked to manage”.

” It’s wrong to criticise prisons for opening that numerous strategies. However it raises a very severe concern about whether we understand who we are sending to prison and the distress that decision develops and the effects that flow from it.”

Pimblett stated the POA was worried about whether, with the dramatic increase in making use of ACCT strategies, “these processes can be adequately followed (particularly in the evening) when there is merely not enough personnel to make sure that efficient observations occur”.

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Reacting to the figures on the varieties of people on ACCT strategies, a Jail Service representative said: “Usually, less than 5% of detainees were on an ACCT plan at any one time over the past 12 months.” They said the number of prisoners put on suicide and self-harm watch in the entire of 2020 would not always be double the figure for the first 6 months of that year.

They said self-harm stayed far too expensive. “That is why we have actually trained more than 25,000 personnel to help avoid it, provided one-to-one support for susceptible prisoners, and boosted security to keep out the drugs that can fuel psychological health problems.”

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