16 self-inflicted deaths have been recorded behind bars since the lockdown was introduced on March 23. As part of these measures, prison visits were suspended and detainees were placed on a restricted diet with less than an hour spent outside cells each day.
Although the number of self-inflicted deaths between March 23 and May 21 was not the highest ever recorded for such a period, five detainees were said to have committed suicide in the past six days, which alarmed activists. penal reform. In 2019, 80 self-inflicted deaths were recorded – less than two per week on average.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) expressed condolences to the families of the deceased and called for caution regarding speculation about the causes of death.
Deborah Coles, director of Investest, a charity concerned with deaths in custody, said: “These deaths are a testament to the frustration and despair of those faced with inhuman living conditions and very restrictive regimes.
“Unlimited solitary confinement is the harsh reality for men, women and children throughout the prison, with harmful consequences for mental and physical health. Unless drastic measures are taken immediately, we fear the worst is yet to come, as the impact of the virus is felt throughout the prison.
“The government must show political courage and quickly reduce the prison population. This course of action can better protect the lives of inmates and staff. “
The most recent self-inflicted deaths were recorded in five prisons: four in the adult men’s area – in Bure in Norfolk, Risley in Cheshire, Dartmoor in Devon and Cardiff – and one in Aylesbury Young Offender Institution (YOI) Buckinghamshire. The prison and probation ombudsman has been informed.
Lenny Crawt, 19, was found dead in his cell at Aylesbury YOI on May 16. He was convicted last year of murdering a 48-year-old man in 2016. Crawt, who was 16 at the time of the murder, was raised as a result of parental neglect concerns, crossing nine counties into eight years.
David Lammy, the fictitious justice secretary, said: “The unusual increase in deaths in custody raises serious questions about whether the serious Covid-19 prison regime is a threat to welfare inmates.
“The Labor Party has called on the Department of Justice to establish a roadmap to relax some of the most stringent measures, while preventing the spread of the virus through testing, tracing, PPE and, where appropriate , to the government’s early release program. It is neither safe nor acceptable for the government to leave isolated prisoners in cells and throw away the key until the end of the pandemic. “
Public Health England (PHE) modeling has shown that the spread of infections and the death rate in prison are much lower than expected. To date, 22 prisoners and nine staff members have died.
The confinement of the epidemic in prisons was motivated by a very restrictive regime involving an increase in time in cells, segregation and a ban on all visits – a regime which, according to PHE, should remain in place until April next year.
Her Majesty’s Prison Inspectorate recently found that detainees in some prisons spent 30 minutes a day outside their cells.
The government has been urged to release more detainees as part of the End of Detention Provisional Release (ECTR) program announced in early April. The Justice Department said that up to 4,000 prisoners who were within two months of their release date and had passed a risk assessment were eligible for the program. But as of May 15, only 57 had been released.
Frances Crook, executive director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Tens of thousands of people are imprisoned in conditions of overcrowding or extreme isolation. It is neither human nor sustainable, and it is wreaking havoc. We must see a clear plan out of mass isolation, to save lives and to give a goal. “
A spokesperson for the Prison Service said: “Our condolences go out to the family and friends of the deceased prisoners. It would be inappropriate to speculate on a coroner’s cause of death.
“The health and well-being of prisoners is a priority. This is why we made the difficult decision to temporarily limit the daily routines of detainees in response to the UK coronavirus epidemic, and we acted quickly to introduce measures such as family video calling to minimize the impact of spending more time in cells. “