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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 January 2008, 16:56 GMT
Sharp increase in prison suicides
Cell door
Jails are under pressure from overcrowding
The number of prisoners who killed themselves in jail rose significantly in 2007, according to official figures.

The Ministry of Justice has confirmed there were 92 apparent self-inflicted deaths in England and Wales in the same year as a record prison population.

The deaths do not represent a record - but are almost 40% higher than 2006, reversing two years of falls.

Prison reform campaigners claim overcrowding in jails is a key factor in the number of suicides.

Prisons Minister Maria Eagle said she sincerely regretted the increase and work was continuing to cut deaths.

According to the Ministry of Justice figures, the number of apparent suicides in jail rose from a low of 67 in 2006 and 78 in 2005. The record number in recent years has been 95 deaths in both 2004 and 2002.

PRISON SUICIDES 1998 - 2007
1998: 82
1999: 91
2000: 81
2001: 73
2002: 95
2003: 94
2004: 95
2005: 78
2006: 67
2007: 92
Source: Ministry of Justice/Howard League for Penal Reform

The vast majority - 84 - were men and 41 remand prisoners made up the single largest group. Seven under-21 young offenders took their own lives. The youngest of these is thought to be a 15-year-old found hanged in November.

There was a significant rise in the number of foreign prisoners apparently taking their own lives - 23 compared with six the year before.

Four people on indeterminate sentences for public protection and 19 on life sentence were among the deaths.

The figures show that, while 92 people killed themselves, more than 100 others were resuscitated after self-harm incidents that would have led to death.

Prisons Minister Maria Eagle said: "I sincerely regret this year's increase in self-inflicted deaths after the significant decreases of recent years.

"Our prisons contain large numbers of very vulnerable people, and caring for them is challenging and vital work. I know that all those involved remain totally committed, and I commend them for that."

Mental health review

The Forum on Preventing Deaths in Custody, a body made up of criminal justice and health experts, warned earlier this year that many deaths were preventable. Its chairman predicted deaths could go up because of overcrowding.

Lancaster Farms Young Offenders Institute
Lancaster Farms: 15-year-old died at Young Offenders' Institute

Ms Eagle said the government was considering the forum's report and had separately launched a review into how prisons deal with offenders with severe mental health problems.

That review, led by former minister Lord Bradley, is looking at how to divert some of these offenders away from prison and will report in the summer.

The jail population hit a record of more than 81,000 in the summer of 2007 but numbers have now eased slightly.

But Frances Crook, Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the suicide figures were the "human cost" of a system stretched to the limit.

"The prison service has taken great strides in suicide prevention in recent years but it is all for naught when the system is on its knees with record overcrowding," she said.

"Prison is where we seek to sweep away social problems, blithely unaware of the fact that we are simply compounding the problems we seek to avoid."

The prison service says that approximately 130,000 people go through the system every year. Some 1,500 people a day are watched under special measures to cut suicide rates among inmates classed as high risks.

Suicides in prison are independently investigated by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.



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