‘Appalling and tragic’ suicides at HMP Nottingham linked to ‘dangerous’ conditions

prison bars, from Flickr, Jason Nahrung

The prisons watchdog has linked eight suicides in HMP Nottingham to conditions at the ‘dangerous’ jail. The reasons for the self inflicted deaths which all happened between inspections in February 2016 and January this year will be looked at by inquests; but the chief inspector Peter Clarke said: ‘For too long prisoners have been held in a dangerous, disrespectful, drug-ridden jail. My fear, which may prove to be unfounded, is that some could face it no longer and took their own lives.’ He said that the deaths were part of an ‘appalling and tragic’ picture of suicide and self-harm in Nottingham.

Inspectors recorded that levels of self-harm were ‘far too high’ at the prison with 344 instances in the six months up to the last visit and a ‘very high’ 25% of prisoners (116) were under psychiatric care. More than one in three (35%) felt unsafe at the time of the inspection and well over half reported bullying or victimisation. Well over half of prisoners said drugs were easily available and 15% had acquired a drug problem since entering the prison.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said that the ‘devastating report’ was ‘a direct challenge to everyone involved in the criminal justice system, running from ministers to sentencers all the way to the prisons where people are dying’. ‘It is a national scandal that so many people have died in our prisons,’ Crook said. ‘But we cannot keep blaming prisons alone for these tragedies – they are at the end of the chain in an under-resourced and overburdened criminal justice system that is failing everyone.’

The Inspectorate visited the East Midlands jail unannounced in 2014 and again in 2016 and 2018 which were announced in advance. There were 103 assaults against staff in the six months before the last inspection and nearly 200 incidents of prisoners climbing on the safety netting. Inspectors said that disorder in the prison ‘contributed to a tense atmosphere’. As a consequence, Clarke issued the first ever ‘urgent notification’ requiring the secretary of state for justice to take personal responsibility for improving a jail over concerns about a ‘dramatic decline’ at Nottingham and a ‘persistent and fundamental lack of safety’. ‘The record of failure… cannot be allowed to continue,’ Clarke said.

Use of force by staff had increased alarmingly since 2016 with nearly 500 incidents in the six-month period prior to the inspection. ‘[In] a prison which could be defined by the prevalence of drugs and violence, the level of suicide and self-harm was both tragic and appalling. Since our previous visit, eight prisoners had taken their own lives, with four of these tragedies occurring over a four-week period during the autumn of 2017.’ He added that a few short weeks after the last inspection, a ninth prisoner was believed to have taken his own life.

Published May 17, 2018

Author: Jon Robins

Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon’s books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council’s journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year’s Criminal Justice Alliance’s journalism award

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