Better information sharing can help prevent prison suicides says new report

shutterstock_55935814 prison man behind bars

Prison staff need to record and share more information about violence and intimidation to improve prisoner safety, said Nigel Newcomen, the new Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO), publishing a report into the impact of intimidation, violence and bullying on those who take their own lives in prison.

The report has been produced as a result of the finding that 20% of the PPO’s investigations into self-inflicted deaths in custody found evidence that the deceased was subject to bullying or intimidation by other prisoners in the three months prior to their death. This does not necessarily mean that these prisoners took their lives solely because they were concerned for their safety. The vulnerabilities that may make a prisoner susceptible to harm by others are often similar to those that make them vulnerable to harming themselves.

This report looks at 42 investigations into self-inflicted deaths, and finds that staff responses to allegations of bullying, assaults and other related incidents could have been better in 17 cases.

The report found that:

  • in some cases, more reliable and thorough recording of information might have enabled a clearer picture to emerge of the risks an individual faced; and
  • in other cases, although information was recorded, it was not shared with those who could have usefully contributed to identifying and alleviating the problems.

The report also calls for an improved understanding of violence reduction and how to improve feelings of safety in prisons and reiterates the importance of protecting prisoners at specific risk of victimisation.

Nigel Newcomen said:

The need for better sharing of information is a recurring theme in our investigations into deaths in custody. In particular, some self-inflicted deaths might have been avoided if there had been improved recording and sharing of information relating to violence, intimidation and bullying. We come across many examples where seemingly small pieces of information were known about a prisoner, but a lack of awareness of the relevance of this information meant that staff did not appreciate the important role that sharing it could play in improving a prisoner’s safety.

Learning from PPO investigations: Violence reduction, bullying and safety (PDF). Prisons and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales, 3 Oct 2011.

If you need help

If you need help and support now and you live in the UK or the Republic of Ireland, please call the Samaritans on 116 123.

If you live elsewhere, we recommend finding a local Crisis Centre on the IASP website.

We also highly recommend that you visit the Connecting with People: Staying Safe resource.

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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