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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 July 2007, 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK
Prisons fail to 'learn lessons'
By Caroline McClatchey
BBC News

Figures suggest the number of inmate suicides this year will exceed last year's total of 67. A mother whose daughter died of an overdose in jail believes many of them could have been prevented.

Pauline Campbell protesting outside Send Prison in Surrey
Pauline Campbell highlights another death in prison

Retired teacher Pauline Campbell keeps a record of the six women who have killed themselves in prison this year.

The first, she says, was a 26-year-old mother-of-five. She was found hanging in her cell at a prison in Gloucestershire on 5 January.

She had yet to be convicted for her "non-violent" crime and Mrs Campbell believes she should never have been in prison.

Mrs Campbell is a tireless, one-woman campaigner.

She never wanted the role but felt she owed it to her daughter Sarah, who died after taking an overdose of anti-depressants at Styal Prison, in Cheshire, in January 2003.

She said her daughter, who had been given three years for manslaughter a day earlier, received "appalling" care.

Heroin addiction

Mrs Campbell said her 18-year-old daughter had a mental illness and was at the start of her sentence - two of the categories said to place prisoners most at risk of self-harm and suicide.

The teenager had a history of heroin addiction and self-harm, and her mother believes she should have been placed in a psychiatric hospital.

The prisons are in a dire situation with unprecedented levels of overcrowding
Pauline Campbell

"Sarah had spent six months on remand at Styal and was in a state of terror about going back there," said Mrs Campbell. "She had tried to hang herself seven times while on remand.

"Every time I visited I saw a marked deterioration in her mental and physical state. She didn't receive the care she needed to treat her addiction and she was kept locked in her cell for 23 hours a day."

In 2005, an inquest jury returned a "narrative conclusion", saying the prison had been responsible for a "failure of duty of care".

It found that Sarah died after a catalogue of errors at the prison, but did not return a suicide verdict.

Mrs Campbell, 59, from Malpas, in Cheshire, said 38 women prisoners had died in custody since Sarah and the Prison Service had failed to "learn any lessons".

But the Prison Service insists it has made improvements in its suicide prevention procedures and continues to so.

Get-tough policy

Mrs Campbell disagrees: "The prisons are in a dire situation with unprecedented levels of overcrowding."

She lays the blame at the door of the government and particularly its "get-tough on crime" policy.

Sarah Campbell
Sarah Campbell died a day after being sentenced

"The prison population has shot up by around 20,000 in the past decade," she said.

"People who are mentally ill and non-violent offenders shouldn't be there. I'm not saying that people shouldn't be held to account when they do wrong but many people in prison shouldn't be there."

She focuses her campaign on women's prisons, some of which have been turned into men's prisons to deal with the overcrowding crisis.

There were three self-inflicted deaths in women's prisons last year and that figure has doubled in the first half of 2007.

She believes the deaths of those six women could have been prevented.

"The number of women in prison has increased by 126% in the past decade and around nine out of 10 women prisoners are in jail for non-violent crimes," she said.

"I get a lump in my throat when I think of those five children left without a mother, who should never have been in jail in the first place."

Protest after woman's jail death
09 May 07 |  England
Jail protest over inmate's death
31 Jan 07 |  Cambridgeshire
Home Office admits rights' breach
27 Sep 06 |  Manchester
Review of women prisoners ordered
29 Mar 06 |  Manchester

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