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More than 30 inmates have taken their own life in Suffolk and Essex prisons

PUBLISHED: 09:37 17 July 2017

The Ministry of Justice says it has increased support available to vulnerable offenders. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Ministry of Justice says it has increased support available to vulnerable offenders. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Almost two thirds of deaths within prisons in Suffolk and Essex are self-inflicted, figures reveal, prompting calls for more to be done to help inmates with their mental wellbeing.

Seven prisoners have taken their own life at Highpoint prison in Suffolk since 2000. Picture: MICHAEL HALL Seven prisoners have taken their own life at Highpoint prison in Suffolk since 2000. Picture: MICHAEL HALL

Between January 2000 and March 2017, seven out of 16 deaths at Highpoint prison in Stradishall and 26 out of 33 deaths at Chelmsford prison fell under this category, which includes suicide and accidental deaths as a result of the person’s own actions.

There were four deaths across Hollesley Bay and Warren Hill prisons, three from natural causes and one is classified as “other/non-natural” causes, according to Government data.

Nationally, almost 1,400 people took their own life in custody during the same period.

Mark Day, head of policy and communications at the Prison Reform Trust, a UK charity working to improve conditions for inmates, said: “This worrying data taken from a broad spread of prisons across Suffolk and Essex speaks to a wider national crisis in the care of prisoners.

26 out of 33 deaths at Chelmsford prison since 2000 were self-inflicted 26 out of 33 deaths at Chelmsford prison since 2000 were self-inflicted

“Overstretched prisons are struggling to cope with an increasing burden of care, stemming from an ageing prison population with chronic physical and mental health needs, and a large revolving door population for whom care and support at the early stages of imprisonment is vital.

“These figures underline the importance of reserving imprisonment for the most serious offenders, and ensuring effective arrangements are in place to divert the most vulnerable into treatment and care.”

Campaigner Melanie Leahy, whose son died at a mental health unit in Chelmsford in 2012, said there was a “lack of support” within institutions for people struggling with their emotional wellbeing and “repeated failings” by bosses.

She added: “There are observations missed, medication errors being made daily, risk assessments not being done fully enough and the whole process is failing society across the country, not just in Essex and Suffolk.

“I think there needs to be a radical shake-up. When there is a death, there’s an action plan put in place and it gets signed off but then there’s another death and there is no accountability.

“To have that many deaths in prisons there must be systematic failings which aren’t being addressed and it’s a sorry state of affairs.”

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice said it had increased support available to vulnerable offenders, invested more in specialist mental health training for prison officers, recruited 2,500 extra frontline officers and launched a suicide and self-harm reduction project.

“However, we recognise that more can be done, and are working on a range of initiatives to reduce levels of self-inflicted death, self-harm and violence across all establishments,” the spokeswoman added.

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