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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 June, 2003, 11:51 GMT 12:51 UK
Prison suicides on increase
Woodhill Prison
Ian Huntley was being held at Woodhill Prison
Woodhill Prison, where Ian Huntley made an apparent suicide attempt, was among 10 jails in England and Wales with the highest recorded suicide rate last year.

A recent report into Woodhill Prison raised concerns about its suicide prevention strategy.

The Inspectorate of Prisons concluded in February last year that whilst "there was an active suicide prevention committee and co-ordinator", this was "not always reflected in the care available for prisoners in the important early days of custody".

The report said the prison was "seriously short of staff" and that cutbacks, combined with the number of prisoners arriving, had created "gaps and pressures".

Woodhill was among the 10 prisons, out of a total of 135, which had three or more self-inflicted deaths last year.

Suicides at prisons in England and Wales increased by almost a third over the same period.

There were 94 suicides in 2002, a jump of 29 percent on the previous year, according to the Prison Reform Trust.

Suicide watch

Campaign groups blame the increase on overcrowding, which they say means staff are less able to supervise prisoners and guard the most vulnerable.

Prisoners who are on suicide watch, such as Mr Huntley, are visited by a prison officer every 15 minutes to check their well-being but, as Mark Leech, editor of the Prisons Handbook, points out, there are no guarantees.

"At the end of the day, if somebody is going to attempt suicide, they're going to attempt suicide. If they're really that determined, there's nothing the prison service can do."

Mr Leech said a prisoner on suicide watch should not be able to have any medication in his cell. "If he is on medication, it should be given as liquid or tablets and staff should see him swallow it," he said.

Staff are trained and know what to look out for
Prison Service spokesman

A spokesman for the Prison Service said there was an ongoing risk assessment, which begins when inmates arrive as they are more vulnerable during the early part of a sentence.

He said: "You could be put on suicide watch if you have a history of self-harm or you self-harm once in prison.

"Staff are trained and know what to look out for. If they suspect someone is a risk they will put them under closer and more frequent observation."

He said the government was midway through a three-year strategy to reduce the number of suicides.

There are 30 full-time suicide prevention co-ordinators working at prisons with the highest suicide rates, and a further 90 full and part-time co-ordinators at other jails, he added.

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