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Prison suicides surge in England and Wales in 2018

By Padraig Collins, PA

The number of suicides in jails in England and Wales jumped 33% last year, while incidents of self-harm rose by 25%, according to newly published figures.

Ninety-two prisoners took their own lives in 2018 and 55,598 harmed themselves - the highest levels of self-harm ever recorded in prisons.

In 2017 the figure for self-inflicted deaths was 69 - up from a high of 115 the previous year.

Ministry of Justice figures found 23% of men and 46% of women in custody have attempted suicide at some point in their lives compared with 6% of the general population.

The figures come as the the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody (IAP) and the Magistrates Association release the results of their survey on sentencing of offenders with mental health conditions, learning disabilities and other needs.

Of 31 magistrates questioned, more than half said they had never included a mental health treatment requirement (MHTR) as part of a community sentence, with the remaining respondents saying they rarely had.

The reasons given for not using an MHTR ranged from not knowing they existed through to magistrates being told "there is no service and if there was it would take too long to set up".

Of the 75,750 community orders made in courts in 2018, just 458 - fewer than 1% - included a mental health treatment requirement.

IAP chairwoman Juliet Lyon said: "Instead of receiving treatment in the community, why are so many people with serious mental health needs still locked in bleak prison cells?

"This is by no means a new problem. The high toll of deaths in custody damages all those involved - from individual tragedies to bereaved families, sentencers who pass judgment to staff who have a duty of care.

"There are humane, professional solutions. This survey and our recommendations set out how improvements in communication and information-sharing, partnerships between health and justice and proper availability of mental healthcare across communities can save lives."

John Bache, national chairman of the Magistrates Association, said: "This report underlines the need to have robust and effective community sentences available as an alternative to custody for vulnerable offenders in every area of the country, which is simply not the case at present, as custody can bring disproportionate risks of self-harm or suicide for these people."

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