Ten people died each week following release from prison, according to a new study out this week looking at the impact of the government’s probation reforms. Over the last eight years, 2,297 people died whilst under post-release supervision by probation services in the community following a custodial sentence.
Authors of the new report Rebecca Roberts, head of policy at INQUEST, and Dr Jake Phillips of Sheffield Hallam University, point to a significant rise in the number of deaths against ‘a backdrop of major reforms to probation services’ and alongside ‘rising levels of deaths, self-harm and violence’ within prisons.
In the wake of the Offender Rehabilitation Act in 2014, which accompanied Chris Grayling’s 2013 Transforming Rehabilitation reforms and expanded probation supervision to those sentenced to a custodial sentence of less than one year, the numbers of people dying each year whilst under post-release supervision increased.
According to INQUEST, the rise in the number of deaths ‘far outstripped’ increases in caseload. ‘Despite this, these deaths have largely been ignored and hidden from view and do not receive the same level of scrutiny, concern or investigation currently received by deaths in custody,’ the group argues.
‘Every two days, someone took their own life,’ wrote Deborah Coles, the group’s director. ‘In the same year, one woman died every week, and half of these deaths were self-inflicted.’
‘Deaths have been rising for a number of years, coinciding with the introduction of the Offender Rehabilitation Act in 2014. These increases have outstripped a rise in caseload and reflect the catastrophic impact of changes to the probation service. Women under probation supervision appear to be at significantly greater risk of taking their own lives.’
Deborah Coles, INQUEST
The report’s authors noted that the number of deaths rapidly started to increase after the implementation of Transforming Rehabilitation. ‘This change will not only have increased the caseload but will also have changed the nature of the cases by including people released from short prison sentences,’ they observed. ‘This group are more likely to lead chaotic lives and face particular vulnerabilities. This will have had an impact on the mortality rate.’
The report argues that there is ‘a distinct and dangerous lack of oversight’ in relation to such deaths which was ‘exacerbated by the lack of any formal oversight’ from the Prison and Probation Ombudsman (PP)) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation.
Last year the PPO launched investigations into 334 deaths but only 12 deaths of people under probation supervision of whom a number were on post-custody supervision. According to INQUEST, there were 515 deaths of people on post-custody supervision in that period.