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Wednesday, 07 December 2016

Prison suicide rate prompts pledge of extra mental health support

Written by The Press Association

Prisons will be helped to access mental health services seven days a week, the Government has suggested amid concerns over high suicide rates among inmates.

Justice Secretary Liz Truss said help would be offered to Lincoln prison to secure access throughout the week following issues raised by the governor over the current Monday to Friday arrangements.

She told MPs that ministers wanted to allow prison governors the opportunity to jointly commission mental health services they needed.

Ms Truss's remarks in the Commons follow a warning from the Howard League for Penal Reform that it has been notified of 102 suicides behind bars this year.

Labour MP Luciana Berger, a former shadow mental health minister, told Ms Truss: "The suicide rate in our prisons is the highest that it has ever been in 25 years. It's absolutely shameful.

"We had (Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt) at the Health Select Committee just the other week and he admitted he's never visited a prison mental health service.

"Can you tell us if you've visited a prison mental health service, and if not why not and when will you?"

Ms Truss replied: "You're absolutely right that mental health is a real issue in our prisons.

"I recently had a meeting with the Health Secretary on this issue about how we can improve mental health services.

"What we're doing is enabling governors to co-commission those health services.

"I was recently at HMP Lincoln discussing mental health services with the governor.

"They're only available at the moment from Monday to Friday. He wants them to be available all week round and we're going to enable that to happen."

Conservative Karen Lumley (Redditch) earlier told Ms Truss: "The suicide rates at HMP Hewell, Redditch, are unacceptably high.

"Can you update the House on what the Government is doing to ensure safety of prisoners and reducing suicide rates in our prisons?"

Ms Truss said self-harm and suicide in prisons were "too high", adding: "That's why we're taking steps to increase the number of prison officers which will mean we have a dedicated officer for every six prisoners, responsible for their welfare but also helping turn their lives around so they don't go back to re-offending."

Ms Truss also revealed she is considering creating a prison-specific offence of corruption.

"Whilst the vast majority of prison officers are hard-working and dedicated, there is a small minority that is an issue", she said.

"We're reporting early next year on our corruption strategy and we are also considering options around a prison-specific offence of corruption to really crack down on that scourge."

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