The annual report from Peter Clarke, chief inspector of prisons, found that 83 self-inflicted deaths occurred in male prisons in 2018-19 (“Suicide rate in prisons a scandal, says watchdog”, July 10). But it is an even greater scandal that during the same period 164 people, 35 per cent of them aged under than 60, died from causes classified as natural, with a further 63 deaths currently unclassified.
These deaths are consistently unreported and unacknowledged. What can be natural about people dying in custody?
An inquiry into suicides in prison is not necessary, with recurrent reviews highlighting the reasons. Huge numbers of people with significant mental illness are currently incarcerated. Many have a significant combination of mental health disorders, including drug and alcohol dependency, personality disorder and psychosis. What is required is access to effective mental health services to meet the needs, many of which are currently unacknowledged and thus untreated.
However, an independent review of natural deaths in prison has never taken place and is urgently required. Mr Clarke’s report makes no reference to the contribution current poor healthcare provision makes to deaths by suicide. But National Health Service England is responsible for healthcare service of people in prison. It is clear that improvements in healthcare delivery are urgently required.
Premature and preventable deaths will only be avoided by political courage and the will to provide funding for fully resourced evidence-based health services to meet needs, decent and humane prison conditions, and rehabilitative regimes.
Dr Mary Piper
London NW3, UK