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Stop deaths of people on release from prison


INQUEST, report, 10 deaths, each week, release from prison, women, suicide, General Election 2019, political parties, commitment, actionThe silence, inaction and institutional indifference must end.

In 2018/19, ten people died each week following release from prison. Every two days, someone took their own life.

In the same year, one woman died every week, and half of these women’s deaths were self-inflicted.

Deaths have been rising for a number of years, coinciding with the introduction of the Offender Rehabilitation Act in 2014.

These increases have outstripped a rise in caseload and reflect the catastrophic impact of changes to the probation service.

And women under probation supervision appear to be at significantly greater risk of taking their own lives.

Deaths of people following release from prison’, a report co-authored by Dr Jake Phillips of Sheffield Hallam University and Rebecca Roberts of INQUEST, provides an overview of what is known about the deaths of people on post custody supervision following release from prison.

The report also highlights the lack of visibility and policy attention given to the growing problem and calls for immediate action to ensure greater scrutiny, learning and prevention.

Between 2010/11 and 2018/19, 211 women died while on post custody supervision and 165(78%) of these deaths happened in the last four years (MoJ, 2019a).

In 2018/19, of those deaths for which the apparent cause has been recorded (38 deaths out of 52), 63 per cent were self-inflicted.

The comparatively low number of women on probation who die means statistical analysis needs to be treated with care.

In spite of this, the indicative figures suggest that the mortality rate is alarmingly high. They show that there was a self-inflicted death rate of 459/100,000 amongst women on post-release supervision during 2018/19. The suicide rate among women in the general population is 4.6/100,000.

Women are disproportionately affected by the process of criminal justice supervision and are at greater risk self-harm and of dying by self-inflicted deaths in custodial settings.

INQUEST’s 2018 report ‘Still Dying on the Inside‘ reframes deaths in custody as a form of violence against women, given many women’s experiences of domestic violence, abuse and trauma.

The report identifies serious safety failures inside prisons around self-harm and suicide management and inadequate healthcare provision and calls for an urgent review of deaths of women following release from custody.

In the general population men are more likely to die by suicide than women. However, when we look to people in the criminal justice system -whether in prison or under probation supervision-women are at a higher risk of a self-inflicted death than men.

In ‘Deaths of people following release from prison’ the authors make the following recommendations:

National review: The government should proceed with its national review of deaths of people on post-release supervision in the community following a custodial sentence to establish the scale, nature and cause of the problem;

Data: More detailed and accurate data should be made available along with regular reporting to the Minister responsible and Parliament alongside the publication of an annual report;

Investigations: Deaths of people on post custody supervision should be investigated by an independent body with adequate resources allocated to allow this to happen. There needs to be a threshold for this with a range of factors taken into account;

Improve scrutiny and learning. The government needs to confirm oversight at a local and national level.

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST said: “INQUEST has become increasingly concerned about the rising numbers of deaths of people on post custody supervision.

“The figures are deeply disturbing and require urgent scrutiny, due to the current lack of independent investigation into these deaths.

“Without this, we cannot fully understand what is happening or how it could be addressed.

“What is clear however is that people are being released into failing support systems, poverty, homelessness and an absence of services for mental health and addictions.

“This is state abandonment.

“The silence, inaction and institutional indifference surrounding deaths of people following release from prison must end.”

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