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Howard League blog · 31 Oct 2016

A plan to save lives in prison

Since the new Secretary of State for Justice was appointed in July, 26 men and women have taken their own lives in prison. They all hanged themselves.

Suicides in prison are now at epidemic proportions with someone dying every three days and it is getting worse day by day.

The Secretary of State is about to announce her plans to reform the prison system by publishing a White Paper, with legislation anticipated next year. This is welcome news. But, we cannot wait for grand plans to wend their way through Parliament. Something must be done now.

The latest figures published by the Ministry of Justice on deaths, self-injury and assaults reveal the bloodbath being experienced by prisons. There are 65 assaults and 100 incidents of self-injury every day.

Imagine going to work in a prison and having to face the prospect of cutting someone down or finding they had cut their wrists and the cell you have just opened up is spattered with blood.

I have a meeting with Liz Truss in a couple of weeks and the Howard League is going to recommend action that can ease the pressure on the system quickly.

Imagine opening a cell door a finding one cell mate has battered another, after being locked up for weeks on end with virtually no respite, no daylight or exercise and not enough food.

The Howard League published a detailed plan of action to deal with the immediate emergency and to resolve deep-seated problems as part of last year’s spending review. Nothing was done.

A year later and the need for action has become even more desperate. I have a meeting with Liz Truss in a couple of weeks and the Howard League is going to recommend action that can ease the pressure on the system quickly.

Everyone must play their part. We cannot leave it up to politicians to legislate. The courts, parole board, probation and private companies supervising people in the community must all play their part in keeping people safe through the exercise of self-restraint.

All these bodies must recognise that they have contributed to the problem and they can be part of the solution. The Howard League is going to publish a plan to help them.


  • Ricky Porter says:

    The national media recently reported that there have already been over 100 prisoner suicides this year – possibly the highest number of suicides ever recorded in any single year.

    We can blame the prison authorities for most, if not all, of these suicides.

    There needs to be more emphasis on rehabilitation and helping prisoners prepare for life on the outside, whether it’s making them realise the enormity of their crime and the effect that it has had on others, or by helping them learn the skills for a trade which they might find employment in when they are released from prison.

    And of course, there are now at least 70 prisoners who have been issued with whole life sentences which mean they will probably never leave prison alive. This is little more than a living death sentence, and what is there to deter a prisoner from killing themselves if they only have endless days in prison to look forward to?

    And worst of all, the absence of any real hope of eventual parole gives a prisoner no incentive to behave well and co-operate with the prison authorities. Did the recent case of Victor Castigador, who recently admitted murdering another prisoner, some 25 years after he was jailed for life for 2 other murders, not give the appropriate authorities an indication that it is wrong to lock someone up and effectively throw away the key? And there have been plenty of incidents in the past which have shown that whole life sentences are effectively an invisible licence for prisoners to do what they want in prison. The case of Robert Mawdsley is the most horrific. Here was a man who was jailed for life and effectively condemned to stay under lock and key until his dying day, and a few years into his sentence he went on to kill three other inmates. This was some 30 years ago, but in the intervening years between Mawdsley’s killing spree and the recent murder committed by Victor Castigador, there were several serious acts of violence by prisoners with whole life sentences. There was Mark Hobson, who a decade ago poured boiling water over Ian Huntley, leaving him scarred for life. And there was also Gary Vinter, who first wounded Roy Whiting, and then beat another prisoner up so violently that he nearly died and was left blind in one eye. These acts of extreme violence might have been prevented if the offenders responsible had been offered some reasonable hope of eventual release in the first place.

  • […] Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, has used her blog to highlight that at least 26 prisoners have taken their life since Liz Truss was appointed […]

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