Suicide Figures ‘A Damning Indictment’ of the State of Prisons Warn MPs

prison1“Mental health figures of prisoners are ’20 years out of date”

Appalling levels of suicide and self-harm behind bars are a “damning indictment” of the state of prisons, a Commons committee has warned.

In a highly critical assessment, MPs argued there are “deep-rooted failures” in the management of prisoners’ mental well-being.

The deteriorating prison estate and long-standing under-staffing have created an environment which exacerbates the mental health issues faced by prisoners, according to the Public Accounts Committee.

It also flagged up the increased availability of drugs in jails.

The committee’s report claimed the Government has no reliable or up-to-date measure of the number of inmates who have mental health problems.

Existing screening procedures were said to be insufficient to adequately identify those in need of support and treatment.

Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier said: “There are deep-rooted failures in the management of prisoners’ mental health, reflected in what is an appalling toll of self-inflicted deaths and self-harm.

“Failing to attend to the mental health needs of inmates can also have devastating effects beyond the prison gates.

“The evidence is stark but there is no realistic prospect of these serious issues being properly addressed unless Government rethinks its approach.

“This must start with a meaningful assessment of the scale of the problem.

“Without adequate data it is simply not possible to determine whether Government action is making a difference – yet, incredibly, the most commonly used estimate of prisoners’ mental health problems is 20 years old.

“This is clearly not good enough and implementing more robust health-screening processes must be a priority.”

The latest official figures show there were a record 41,103 reported incidents of self-harm in prisons in England and Wales in the 12 months to June 2017, up 12% from the previous year.

There were 77 self-inflicted deaths in jails in the year to September, which was down 33 on the previous year.


Page 2: 00:01

Professor Pamela Taylor, chairwoman of the forensic faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the Government “must look harder at how to prevent so many people with mental health problems ending up in prison”.

She added: “Many prisoners have severe mental disorders but are treated in an entirely inappropriate environment.”


Page 3: 00:01

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “Every death in custody is a tragedy and we are redoubling our efforts to support vulnerable offenders, especially during their first 24 hours in custody.

“All prisoners are subject to health screening when entering prison and their mental health is monitored closely while they serve their sentence.

“In April this year we introduced new suicide and self-harm reduction training – over 11,000 staff have embarked on the new training.

“We continue to support the prisoner listener scheme, as well as providing extra funding for the Samaritans.

“We will continue to work closely with NHS England to improve services in a number of areas, including the process for prisoners who require transfer to secure hospitals.

“We have been clear that improving safety in our prisons is our priority – that is why we are investing £100 million to increase staffing by 2,500 officers and we are taking unprecedented action to tackle drug use which undermines safety and stability.”


selfharmSome improvement has been made in managing the mental health needs of prisoners, but there is still a long way to go, said Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Nigel Newcomen. Today he published a review on prisoner mental health arising from his investigations into deaths in custody.

Mental ill-health is one of the most prevalent and challenging issues in prisons and is closely associated with high rates of suicide and self-harm in custody. These mental health needs range from mild forms of depression to serious and enduring conditions, such as psychotic illnesses and severe personality disorders, which can be much more difficult to manage. Echoing previous research, the review found that 70% of the prisoners who killed themselves had one or more identified mental health needs.

The report considers the deaths of 557 prisoners who died in prison custody between 2012 and 2014, including 199 self-inflicted deaths, where the prisoner had been identified as having mental health needs. It goes on to identify the lessons learned from these investigations.

The review makes clear the importance of identifying mental health issues, as without accurate diagnosis, it is very difficult to provide appropriate treatment and support. Once a need is identified, effective intervention is required. However, the identification and treatment of mental health issues among prisoners was variable and many areas for improvement remain.

One particular challenge for prisons is that some mental health conditions cause sufferers to present very challenging behaviour, which staff may deal with as a behavioural, rather than a mental health problem. This may lead to a punitive, rather than a therapeutic, response. Often this only worsens the prisoner’s underlying mental ill-health, further compromising their ability to cope.

Among other findings, the report found a number of cases where:

  • there was poor information sharing, failure to make referrals to mental health professionals, inappropriate mental health assessments and inadequate staff training;
  • there was a lack of coordinated care, with little evidence of prison staff and healthcare staff working together or a lack of joined-up work between primary healthcare, mental health in-reach and substance misuse services; and
  • prisoners with mental health needs sometimes find it difficult to understand the importance of taking their medication and staff did not always remind or encourage them to do so.

Prisoners with mental health needs can sometimes be very difficult to manage. Commendably, investigations also found impressive examples where staff went to great lengths to ensure that prisoners in crisis received excellent care.

Nigel Newcomen said:

“While there were many examples of very good practice, there were also too many cases where practice could and should have been better. Issues ranged from poor monitoring of compliance with medication and lack of encouragement to take prescribed drugs, to inappropriate care plans which were not reviewed and updated. There have also been investigations in which we found that the provision of mental health care was simply inadequate.

“Given the scale of mental ill-health in prison and the pressures in the system, it is perhaps not surprising that this review identifies significant room for improvement in the provision of mental health care.”

– ENDS –


  1. A copy of the report can be found on our website from 19 January 2016. Visit

Mentally ill inmate admits battering cell-mate to death

copsinwannoA mentally ill prisoner has admitted battering his cell mate over the head with a television set as he awaited trial for a random attack on a walker at popular beauty spot.

In June 2014, Taras Nykolyn, 46, pounced on Roger Maxwell as he took an early morning stroll near the Windmill landmark on Wimbledon Common in south-west London.

He forced the victim to the ground, smashing his face and breaking his wrist.

Then, while he was on remand at Wandsworth prison, Nykolyn killed Wadid Barsoum by hitting him with a TV, punching and stabbing him in their cell.

Ukrainian Nykolyn, of no fixed abode, pleaded guilty to both attacks at the Old Bailey with the help of an interpreter.

He admitted inflicting grievous bodily harm to Mr Maxwell on June 19 2014 and the manslaughter of Mr Barsoum on May 4 last year.

Alternative charges of grievous bodily harm with intent and murder were ordered to lie on file by the Recorder of London, Nicholas Hilliard QC, after hearing the defendant was suffering from mental illness at the time.

Prosecutor Simon Denison QC said: “Two psychiatric reports concluded that the defendant suffers from an abnormality of mental function, namely paranoid psychosis.

“They are satisfied that at the time of the killing of Mr Barsoum his responsibility was diminished.”

Although there was a possible defence of insanity to the attack on Mr Maxwell, the Crown was satisfied it was dealt with appropriately with the plea to a lesser charge.

Diana Ellis QC, defending, told the court that Nykolyn had been moved to HMP Belmarsh since the killing.

Then in November last year, he was transferred to Broadmoor secure hospital for an assessment before being sent back to the top security jail.

As the requirements have not been met for a hospital order, the defendant faces a jail sentence, the court heard.

Sentencing was adjourned to Friday, January 22.

HMP Wandsworth was built in 1851 and is now the largest prison in the UK, holding 1,877 inmates

Alongside HMP Liverpool, which is of similar size, the category B jail is one of the largest prisons in Western Europe.

The spot where Mr Maxwell was attacked is not far from where young mother Rachel Nickell was stabbed to death by schizophrenic Robert Napper on July 15 1992

In 2008, Napper pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility bringing to an end the inquiry into one of the most notorious killings in modern British criminal history.

“Prison Doesn’t Work” – Official


Thousands of offenders are being jailed unnecessarily, Nick Clegg will warn today as he promises to press for more early interventions to stop vulnerable people going to prison if the Liberal Democrats are in government after the general election.

The Deputy Prime Minister will use a keynote speech to dismiss the claim that “prison works” as nothing more than a “slogan” when the reality for many offenders is that it makes their problems worse.

He will say that locking up drug addicts, people with mental health problems and abused and vulnerable women simply increases the prospect that they will turn into hardened offenders.

His traditional liberal stance on law and order will inevitably open up the Lib Dems to attack by the other parties that they are “soft on crime”.

Mr Clegg, however, will point to figures showing that the prison population in England and Wales had risen from fewer than 49,000 in 1994 to more 85,000 to argue that increasing numbers were being jailed unnecessarily.

“I don’t believe there are 36,000 more dangerous people now than then. We have not become a more vicious or sinister society,” he will say.

“Abused and vulnerable women, people with serious mental health issues, drug users and addicts, all crammed like sardines into crowded prisons. That is not proof that prison is ‘working’. It’s a litany of despair.

“‘Prison works’ is a slogan, not a solution. It is not working when it routinely turns first-time offenders into hardened criminals.

“We want to end the revolving door that sees offenders leave prison with no help and no hope, only to return to their cell a few weeks later.”

Mr Clegg will say that the Lib Dems in government would push for the roll-out of “diversion and liaison services” – which intervene in the early stages when vulnerable offenders are first identified – across England.

They will argue also for powers to commission mental health services as an alternative to custody for troubled young offenders while offenders convicted for possessing drugs for personal use should be put in treatment or education rather than a prison cell.

The Lib Dems would also seek to establish a women’s justice board while promoting greater use of restorative justice for children raised in care, so they are not “dragged into the criminal justice system” for behaviour that, for other children, would have been dealt with in the family home.

“This is not some ideological crusade. The Liberal Democrats want these things because they work, because they will make us safer,” he will say.

Former cop admits trying to murder colleagues

Melissa Swift
Melissa Swift

A former special constable has admitted three charges of attempting to murder staff at the care home where she worked.

Melissa Swift put “a bleach-type oxidant” into the water and juice of vulnerable elderly residents at the Goldfield Court home in West Bromwich last year, also poisoning her colleagues.

At Birmingham Crown Court today, the 23-year-old further admitted making threats to kill, posting anonymous “blood-smeared letters” to two victims, including her older sister Lulla Swift.

West Midlands Police described her crimes as “particularly heinous”.

In court she admitted attempting to kill co-workers Amy Garbett, Billy McCann, and Sharon Moss, and sending a threatening letter to another colleague Charlotte Dixon.

In all 32 people; seven care staff and 25 residents, were poisoned with one woman suffering “stroke-like symptoms”.

Others suffered nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, however all have since made a full recovery, with no long-term ill effects.

Police said it was a mystery why Swift had poisoned the drinks adding it would be wrong to speculate as to her motives.

She had worked at the extra care home, made up of independent-living flats for elderly residents, for several years.

Swift, sat in the court dock wearing a pink and black smock dress, spoke in a low voice only to enter her pleas.

Across from her, in the public gallery, were sat family members including her mother, father and two sisters.

Lulla, who police said was estranged from the family, was not among those in court.

Adrian Keeling, prosecuting, said: “Its the case she intended to poison three of her colleagues at Goldfield Court, and made threats to kill on two other individuals”.

Speaking after the hearing, Detective Chief Inspector Michaela Kerr, who led the investigation, said Swift’s offending against “vulnerable people in a care home setting” was “particularly heinous and concerning offending”.

She said: “One of the victims suffered stroke-like symptoms and was admitted into hospital during the period under investigation. Fortunately she has made a full recovery.

“Other victims exhibited a range of symptoms similar to food poisoning-type symptoms.”

She continued: “We do know that the poisons were administered into drinks that everybody in that care home had access to.”

Officers launched an inquiry when they had a tip-off regarding Swift, about “a change in her behaviour”.

Mrs Kerr added: “She told someone things like ‘I feel like I’m going to hurt somebody’, and ‘I’m going to hurt people’.”

It also emerged Swift, of Hambletts Road, West Bromwich, had been a special constable with West Midlands Police until the month prior to her arrest in August last year, when she resigned.

There was no previous history of offending, according to detectives.

Ms Kerr added Swift “deceived her colleagues and hatched a plan to cause ill to those she worked with as a result of some malice, for which we have never truly discovered the cause”.

“She not only thought out a way of poisoning her workmates but also followed the plan through and administered bleach to their drinks, leaving them in the usual staff fridge where she knew they would go.

“The plan was dangerous, reckless and hugely alarming.

“There is nothing to have stopped anyone from consuming the drinks she tampered with and, given the nature of her profession and workplace as a care provider, she went against everything her dedicated colleagues worked for.

“Thankfully, no-one was seriously injured as a result of what she did, but the story could so easily have been different.”

Swift was remanded back into custody by Judge Philip Parker QC who adjourned proceedings until April 17, when the former care worker will be sentenced.

A spokesman for Housing & Care 21, which runs Goldfield Court, said: “Melissa Swift’s actions in August were shocking and alarming.

“Our priority has been to offer support to our staff and residents at Goldfield Court.

“It is a testament to the staff and residents that disruption to life at the Court was kept to a minimum.

“We’re very proud of the way our staff responded and prioritised the service to people living there.

“The residents themselves have also been very helpful and co-operative throughout the police investigation.

“We would like to thank West Midlands Police and the many other agencies for their sensitivity and professionalism throughout this incident.”

Judge may visit mentally ill patient


A High Court judge might travel to a psychiatric hospital to hear evidence from a mentally-ill sex offender who does not want to have a blood transfusion on religious grounds.

Health authority officials with responsibility for the 23-year-old man’s care have asked Mr Justice Holman for a ruling on whether doctors have a duty to ”enforce” a transfusion under the terms of mental health legislation.

Details have emerged at hearings in the Family Division of the High Court and the issues are due to be fully analysed at a trial in the near future.

Lawyers representing the man, a Jehovah’s Witness, say he wants to take part in the trial.

Mr Justice Holman says if the man cannot be brought to a court hearing an option might be for a judge to hear evidence at the hospital where he is being held.

He also said it was possible that the man could give evidence via a video link from the hospital.

The man, who is serving a five-year sentence after being convicted of a sex assault, adopted the Jehovah’s Witness faith about eight months ago, Mr Justice Holman has been told.

He was moved from prison to a specialist secure unit, where he was being restrained after cutting his arm with a razor blade and opening an artery.

Doctors said the man – who was detained under the terms of mental health legislation – had suffered significant blood loss and his haemoglobin had fallen to ”an extremely life-threatening level”.

They advised a blood transfusion but the man – who had a ”severe personality disorder” and a history of sexual offending – refused blood products on the basis of his faith.

Doctors said he had a long history of ”significant and repeated self-harming behaviour” and was placed in a ”mechanical restraint belt” to prevent him using his hands to pick at his wound and further damage the artery.

The judge has made an interim order declaring that the man’s decision to refuse a blood transfusion is ”valid”, pending further debate.

He says the case raises a ”terrible dilemma” because people have a right to respect for their religious beliefs, but the state also has a responsibility to protect the mentally ill.

And he says ”a number of legal and ethical issues” have been raised.

Mr Justice Holman says nothing can be reported which would identify the man or his location.

But he says the health authority asking for the ruling – Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust – can be named.

Jehovah’s Witnesses say they refuse blood on the basis of Biblical teaching. The official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses says the Old and New Testaments ”clearly command us to abstain from blood”.

The site says they avoid taking blood in obedience to God and ”out of respect for him as the Giver of life”.