Deaths in custody

This week the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody held its Keeping Safe Conference conference in London. Speaking at the event, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland, highlighted the importance of family members and loved ones being able to share urgent safeguarding concerns they might have for someone currently in prison.

Following the recent publication of our joint report, Keeping People Safe in Prison, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust and Andy Keen-Downs, Chief Executive of Pact (the Prison Advice and Care Trust) have issued a joint response to Robert Buckland's remarks.

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Commenting on the findings of today’s (30 January) Ministry of Justice Safety in Custody statistics, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“We welcome the small decrease in the overall levels of assault and significant drop in serious assaults on staff. But the hidden crisis revealed in these figures is the record levels of self-harm, which continue to rise unabated. A failure to ensure decent and humane conditions, as well as respond effectively to the large proportion of people in prison with serious mental health problems, is being paid for in human misery and distress. Too many people are held in overcrowded conditions with too little to do. The government needs a plan to restore purpose and hope to our prisons. Sending more people to prison for longer will make matters worse.”

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Report finds just one in 10 safer custody departments in prisons answer phone calls from worried family members.

New research reveals that most prisons in England and Wales are failing in their duty to ensure that emergency phone lines are in place for families to share urgent concerns about self-harm and suicide risks of relatives in prison. This is in serious breach of government policy that families should be able to share concerns ‘without delay’.

At a time of unprecedented levels of self-harm in prisons, charities are calling on prisons to protect the lives of people in prison and address these critical failures. In 12 months to March 2019 there were 58,000 self-harm incidents in prisons – compared to 26,000 a decade earlier.

A joint report by the Prison Reform Trust, INQUEST and Pact (the Prison Advice and Care Trust), maps the provision of safer custody telephone lines across the prison estate - dedicated phone lines which enable family members and others to pass on urgent information when they have concerns.

It finds that provision is patchy, under-resourced and even non-existent in some prisons, leaving families struggling to share their concerns with prison staff.

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Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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