Five suicides among 16 prison deaths in North East, figures show

HMP Durham.
HMP Durham.

Five people took their own lives in prisons in the North East during 2015 as the suicide rate behind bars remained at an 'alarmingly high level,' new figures show.

The rate was revealed by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal today, with Ministry of Justice figures showing a total of 16 people died in the region’s prisons last year.

Two people took their own lives in Durham prison. Deaths by suicide were also recorded in Holme House, Low Newton and Northumberland prisons.

Across England and Wales, deaths by suicide have risen by 46 per cent in the last three years, at a time when prisons have struggled to cope with growing numbers of prisoners, chronic overcrowding and deep staff cuts.

A further eight prisoners were killed in apparent homicides during 2015 – the highest number in a single year since current recording practices began in 1978.

The Howard League and Centre for Mental Health, supported by The Monument Trust, are working together on a joint programme on preventing people from dying by suicide in prison.

Analysis of cases reported to the Howard League last year suggests that people who are held in prison on remand, or have been recalled to prison while on licence, are disproportionately likely to take their own lives.

About 40 per cent of prisoners who died by suicide in 2015 were on remand at the time of their deaths, even though people on remand make up only 15 per cent of the prison population at any one time.

About 14 per cent of prisoners who died by suicide in 2015 were in prison due to a licence recall. Recalled prisoners account for only 7 per cent of the prison population.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “No one should be so desperate whilst they are in the care of the state that they take their own life.

“The numbers hide the true extent of misery for prisoners and families – and for staff, who have been given the impossible task of keeping people safe in overcrowded prisons starved of resources.

“The question now for the Ministry of Justice is: what to do? This level of deaths, violence and anguish in prisons cannot continue to rise in a civilised society.

“We cannot go on cramming more people into jails without any thought for the consequences.”