Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry and interim report: Mental Health and Deaths in Prison

The Joint Committee on Human Rights launched an inquiry into mental health and deaths in prison in December 2016.  An interim report (pdf) was published in April 2017.

The number of self-inflicted deaths in prison has risen steadily from 58 in 2010 to 119 in 2016, the highest number since records began in 1978.  There has been a particularly sharp increase in the number of self-inflicted deaths in the female estate, up from five in 2015 to 12 in 2016 (the highest on record since 2003).

The Committee proposes:

  • A statutory duty on the Secretary of State to specify and maintain a minimum ratio of prison officers to prisoners at each establishment
  • A prescribed legal maximum to the time a prisoner can be kept in their cell each day
  • A legal obligation for the Prison Service to ensure that each young prisoner or adult prisoner with mental health problems has a key worker
  • A legal obligation that the relatives of a suicidal prisoner should be informed of and invited to contribute to the Assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork (ACCT) reviews (unless there is a reason that it should not be the case)
  • To deal with the problem that young people, and prisoners with mental health conditions which place them at risk of suicide, have a particular need to be able to contact their families but, from the evidence we received, were often unable to do so, provision should be made in the Prison Rules to enable them to make free phone calls to a designated family member or friend
  • Where a prisoner needs to be transferred to a secure hospital, a legal maximum time between the diagnosis and the transfer
  • A mechanism to ensure the Secretary of State’s accountability to Parliament for overcrowding
  • A mechanism to ensure the Secretary of State’s accountability to Parliament for maintaining the specified staffing levels

…and notes:

‘There is a moral obligation on the Government to take effective action to reverse the alarming rise in the number of people with mental health conditions who lose their lives while in prison.’

Read the interim report (pdf) or a summary of the relevant human rights law framework (pdf).

Background

The inquiry is structured around three broad themes:

  • Whether prison is the right place for vulnerable offenders such as those with mental health conditions and/or learning difficulties
  • The way prisoners with mental health conditions are treated in prison
  • How to ensure that lessons for the future are learned, errors not repeated and that good practice becomes common practice

The deadline for written submissions was 3 February 2017.