Today the news carries reports of another young person taking their own life in custody. A 20 year old man who was serving a four year prison sentence at HMYOI Portland was found dead in his cell having hanged himself from the cell window on Saturday morning. As with all deaths in custody the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman will investigate the circumstances surrounding the death and make recommendations to the establishment as to how they can stop such tragic events happening again.
This sad death was the third young offender to take their life in YOI custody in the space of one week. In the last 22 years, 244 people under the age of 21 have taken their own lives in prison (on average roughly one person per month). This is a shocking statistic. Whatever the reason for them being there these young people have been in the care of the Government and as such the Government has a duty of care towards them. Surely now we are beyond the stage of having individual investigations into each death? Would it not be better if a proper investigation is carried out to see what can be done to reduce the number of suicides in custody?
People in prison may not generally get the sympathy of the public. Some might go so far as to say “good riddance” to a person who kills themselves in custody. However, that would be an utterly disgusting approach to take and anyone who does adopt such a stance is not (one would hope) representative of the UK population.
What caught my eye in the BBC News particle about the suicide was that, despite the young man having known psychiatric issues and being on anti-psychotic medication, HMYOI Portalnd does not cater for psychiatric issues among its inmates. That raises two questions. First, why does it not cater for psychiatric issues among its inmates. The establishment has a duty of care towards each and every single person held in its custody regardless of their medical background. Secondly, why was a person with known psychiatric issues held in an establishment that does not cater for such prisoners?
Generally, the suicide rate in the UK prisons is considerably higher than that of the general population (up to about 15 times greater). That is, quite frankly, a shocking statistic. Simply because a person has committed an offence that has placed in them in prison does not mean that we should care any less about them than we would if they were not an offender in custody. The Government has a duty of care towards all in its custody and it is about time that they looked seriously at how they can reduce the numbers of people successfully or attempting to take their own life.