Learning Lessons From Murders In Prison Report

Mitchell Harrison murdered in HMP Frankland
Mitchell Harrison murdered in HMP Frankland


Homicides in prison are rare but there are still lessons to be learned from them, said Nigel Newcomen, Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO), as he published a bulletin.

The PPO investigates all deaths in custody and his remit is to examine the circumstances surrounding the death and establish whether anything can be done to help prevent similar tragedies in the future. Since 2003, the PPO has investigated 16 homicides in prisons in England and Wales. During the same period, the PPO investigated over 1,500 other deaths, either self-inflicted or from natural causes.

The bulletin highlights:

  • the need for prison staff to have access to and make use of all available information when assessing the risk involved in a prisoner sharing a cell;
  • the need for the Prison Service to manage carefully the risks that vulnerable prisoners pose to one another, including when they are separated from mainstream prisoners in vulnerable prisoner units; and
  • the need for safe and consistent procedures for cell door locks when prisoners are unlocked.

Nigel Newcomen said:

“This Learning Lessons Bulletin examines the lessons to be learned from the mercifully infrequent but nonetheless tragic killing of one prisoner by another in custody.

“These are some of the hardest deaths to learn lessons from. They occurred in 15 different establishments; prisons contain many people who pose a serious risk of harm to others, but very few kill in custody; and learning can be slow to emerge because of the need to build, and then not prejudice, a criminal case against those responsible. However, learning lessons about managing risk better could make homicides in prison rarer still.”

Mark Leech editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said the cutting of budgets makes prisons more dangerous places.

“We have seen almost £500m wiped off the budgets of our prisons in the last two years, that results in less staff on duty and so a greater risk to prisoners and prison officers – if we want to make our prisons safer places then we have to pay for it – something our timid Prisons Ombudsman refuses to address.”

A copy of the bulletin can be found on the prison ombudsman’s website. Visit www.ppo.gov.uk.

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