Alarming rate of suicides in prison

The fact that prison suicides are at record levels is tragic, but it is only one of the most serious consequences of the last government’s decision to cut prison staffing while prisoner numbers were rising. The prison service is in crisis following a 40 per cent cut in the number of prison officers and mental health teams are struggling to help prisoners in desperate need.

In many cases there is no-one available to escort prisoners to in-prison clinics; from time to time even when a psychiatrist goes to a prisoner’s cell as there are not enough prison officers present and the cell door can’t be unlocked for safety reasons.

Health service staff can only do so much – the whole system must become more functional.

Training for staff is also suffering. The recent inquest into a prisoner’s suicide in Cheltenham reported that prison staff mistakenly believed ‘a prison psychiatrist’s’ permission was needed before he could be transferred to hospital. Health service staff can only do so much – the whole system must become more functional.

Professor Pamela Taylor

Professor Pamela Taylor is a forensic psychiatrist and chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ forensic faculty.

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