Carillion prison staff had no mandatory suicide prevention training
The collapsed construction giant Carillion has confirmed that inadequately trained staff were allowed to work with ‘at-risk’ prisoners despite it being in breach of government policy.
HM Prison and Probation Service failed to include in its £75 million a year contracts the requirement for all prisoner-facing Carillion staff to undertake suicide and self-harm prevention training in breach of the Ministry of Justice’s own guidance. Carillion provides facilities management services to half of the public prisons in England and Wales. Last month the MoJ created a new government owned facilities management company to take over the delivery of services including cleaning, reactive maintenance, landscaping and planned building repair work.
The inquest into the death of Sean Plumstead at HMP Winchester concluded last October and the jury found the prison’s failure to instigate appropriate self-harm support measures contributed to his death. The father-of-two had reportedly asked a Carillion staff member the best way to kill himself, but the agency worker did not take it seriously and failed to record or report it. He told the inquest that had he been trained at the time of Sean’s death he would have recorded Sean’s comments, which would have triggered the appropriate support measures.
A failure of staff to respond within the required five minutes to the emergency bell sounded by his cellmate could also have contributed to his death, it was concluded. Speaking after the inquest, Plumstead’s mother, Lisa Dance, said:
‘I find it hard to believe that those responsible for Sean in the place of work had no proper training … It was also hard to hear about the delay in the cell bell being answered. I know that I will forever wonder about what might have happened had staff got to Sean within the time they were supposed to.’
Following the inquest, Graeme Short, the Senior Coroner for Central Hampshire, issued a Prevention of Future Deaths report to both the Prison Service and Carillion. He said: ‘There is a risk… that there was and continues to be a gap in training which Carillion is either unaware of or unconcerned with.’
Carillion’s response said ‘having carefully reviewed’ their contracts with the prisons service there was ‘in fact no contractual requirement upon Carillion and its staff to undergo SASH (suicide and self-harm) training’. ‘Carillion was unaware of the requirement for its staff to undergo SASH training,’ it added.
The response from Michael Spurr, chief executive of the Prison Service, dated 8 January 2018, admitted it had failed to ensure its contracts were in line with national policy. It said:
‘I accept that the requirement for prisoner-facing staff to undertake suicide and self-harm prevention training was not specifically brought to the attention of Carillion when their contract began … Both HMPPS and Carillion are committed to ensuring that all relevant staff are trained as soon as possible.’
An investigation, published on Friday, on Corporate Watch highlighted the full extent of the failures and Michael Spurr’s acknowledgment that the prison service did not hold records of training provided to outsourced staff from their employers.
Clair Hilder, senior associate at Hodge Jones & Allen who represented Plumstead’s family at the inquest, said that there was no provision for such training of Carillion staff showed ‘the shocking lack of priority given to self-harm and suicide prevention in prisons despite the latest safety in custody statistics showing record highs of self-harm incidents’. ‘Carillion is not the only private provider whose staff work in prisons and this raises serious questions about the contracts with other suppliers across the entire prison service,’ she said. ‘Someone needs to take responsibility to ensure all staff are trained properly.’
The inquest is the latest to shed light on failings at the prison, where five men died in a four-month period in 2015. Since Plumstead’s death there have been a further two self-inflicted deaths, one last month and one in May. During its July 2016 inspection, the Chief Inspector of Prisons noted that HMP Winchester had failed to implement its 2014 recommendation that emergency cell bells should be answered promptly. Further, HMP Winchester had already received a series of reports ordering them to address concerns about the mandatory training and the speed of its delivery to staff following the inquests of other prisoners who had died.
Deborah Coles, director of the legal charity INQUEST, said the omissions highlighted by the jury were ‘reflective of a pattern of failures at HMP Winchester, highlighted through numerous recent inquests’.