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Two leading charities have outlined steps they see as critical in helping cut the numbers of prisoners committing suicide.




The Centre for Mental Health and the Howard League for Penal Reform say that prisons need a profound culture change to prevent people from losing their lives through suicide.

Joint report


Their joint report - Preventing suicides: staff perspectives – found that distress, self-harm and suicide attempts are too often seen or regarded as manipulative rather than signs of need and vulnerability among prisoners.

In what is the last of four reports from an investigation from differing perspectives into suicide in prisons by the two charities, the report pointed to a number of underlying reasons.

Shift of emphasis


Findings in the report show that the majority of prisoners have multiple and complex needs including poor mental health, but many do not get access to mental health support. 
Both charities say a shift of emphasis within prisons is required - from a primarily punitive approach to a culture centred on wellbeing, recovery and rehabilitation.

Three step to improve wellbeing


The report was drawn up following interviews with offender healthcare professionals working in prisons and those reviewing clinical care following suicide deaths and suggests three steps the charities feel are necessary to improve safety and wellbeing in prisons:

1. Prisons need to adopt a ‘stepped care’ approach in which the whole system is responsible for a prisoner’s wellbeing, with mental health support available at every level of need;

2. All prison staff need training to support prisoners’ wellbeing, and their own wellbeing;

3. Robust risk assessments are essential when a person arrives at a prison.

Time for Action


Participants discussed how “mental health training for officers needs to be less of an A-Z in psychiatric diagnosis and more focused on psychological ideas, such as trauma and fight or flight stress responses”. 

Chief Executive of The Howard League for Penal Reform, Frances Crook said: “As prison suicides reach record levels, it is time for action” and Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive of Centre for Mental Health, added:

“Our research shows that we need a new approach to suicide prevention in prisons by putting safety and wellbeing at the heart of our criminal justice system.”

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