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Emily’s inquest ends: time for change

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WIP2020 Campaign, INQUEST, Corston Review, change, women in prison“Nothing has changed … everyone promises, it’s delivering that counts.”

On 1 February 2018 the inquest into the self-inflicted death of 21 year-old Emily Hartley at HMP New Hall in 2016 concluded.

She was the youngest of 22 women to die in a women’s prison that year; 2016 saw the highest annual number of deaths on record.

And the evidence at the inquest raised serious issues about the decision to place Emily in prison.

Emily had been remanded in custody in May 2015 after she set fire to herself, her bed and curtains. She had a history of serious mental ill health including self-harm, suicide attempts and drug addiction. This was her first time in prison.

Emily’s family said: “Whilst we were shocked to find Emily sent to prison, the one consolation was that we believed she would be kept safe.”

Emily’s death took place behind the building where exercise took place, in an out-of-bounds area.

It took prison staff two and half hours to notice that she had gone missing and to find her body, despite the fact that she should have been checked every half an hour because she was considered at risk.

What makes this all the more shocking is that ten years to the day of Emily’s inquest the same coroner had dealt with a strikingly similar death at the inquest of Petra Blanskby.

Petra died in prison aged 19, having been sent there for a similar offence to Emily’s and a history of mental illness.

At the end of Petra’s inquest in 2008, the coroner made a recommendation to the Prison Service and Department of Health that the two departments should deal with the lack of secure therapeutic facilities outside prison for those with serious mental health needs.

Please watch this short report from Channel 4 News.

In the report Petra’s father says: “Nothing has changed … everyone promises, it’s delivering that counts.”

The charity INQUEST has been working with the family of Emily Hartley and alerted the coroner to his previous recommendations from Petra Blanksby’s inquest.

Deborah Coles, director of INQUEST described Emily’s inquest as ‘a damning indictment of a justice system that criminalises women for being mentally ill.

‘For decades, recommendations from investigations, from inquests and from the Corston review have not been acted upon.

‘This inquest adds to the plethora of evidence about the dangers of imprisonment for women, and the need to invest in community services that can address mental ill health and addiction.’

For more information go to INQUEST’s website.

The Ministry of Justice is due to publish its Women’s Justice Strategy. This is an opportunity to deliver on promises made and create the change that is so desperately needed to avoid future tragedies like the deaths of Emily and Petra.

Please help create a different system and deliver a legacy of real social justice.

What you need to know:

Women in prison are often victims themselves.

Over half of women in prison have been victims of domestic or sexual violence.

Over half have experienced abuse or neglect as a child, and a third grew up in care.

Serious mental health problems are endemic in women’s prisons and are often a result of trauma.

84 per cent of women’s prison sentences are for non-violent offences, such as theft, that are often related to poverty and addiction.

Prison causes harm.

A few weeks in prison is enough time for a woman to lose her home, job and children. The stigma can last a lifetime.

When women leave prison, 3 out of 5 have no home to go to and 9 out of 10 have no employment.

9 out of 10 children with a mother in prison are forced to leave home to go into care or live with relatives.

In 2016, 22 women died in prison (12 took their own lives) – the highest number on record.

And 21 per cent of self-harm in prison is by women – although they only account for 5 per cent of the total prison population.

There is a better way.

Women’s Centres, community support services and alternatives to custody result in lower reoffending rates than prison.

Prison isn’t working – most women serving short prison sentences are back in prison within a year.

On average the annual cost of running a Women’s Centre equates to approximately £1,000 per woman supported, compared to £42,766 per woman in prison.

Please ask your MP to contact the Justice Secretary, David Gauke MP, and Minister Dr Phillip Lee MP to ask that the forthcoming Women’s Justice Strategy:

1) Leads with a commitment to reduce the number of women being sent to prison by including investment in programmes which divert women away from prison into community support and alternatives to custody.

2) Includes long-term sustainable funding for Women’s Centres and services so that support is available in every community enabling women to address the root causes of offending such as mental ill-health, domestic violence, and substance misuse

3) Does not include the proposal to build five new prisons for women – please ask the Ministers to choose to spend public money on alternatives to custody and community support services rather than building new prisons for women

For a sample letter click here.

For more information about the Women in Prison campaign, the 2020 Ambition, to pledge your support and (or) to join the campaign please go to the WIP2020 website.

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