HC Deb 25 March 2003 vol 402 c155W
Mrs. Helen Clark

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment he has made of(a) the relationship between prisoner numbers and self-inflicted deaths in prison and (b) measures to prevent suicides and self-harm by offenders under the supervision of the Probation Service with particular reference to those living in probation hostels. [104217]

Hilary Benn

There are many reasons why a prisoner may self-harm or attempt suicide; the general prison population contains a large number of prisoners with a combination of psychiatric disorders, alcohol and drug dependency, family background and relationship problems, histories of self-harm and previous abuse, all of which raise their risk of suicide and self-harm. It is likely that the number of self-inflicted deaths is rising because of a combination of the effects of increased prisoner throughout and an increasingly risk-laden population.

The current operating environment is very challenging because of more prisoners being remanded to prison and greater movement of prisoners. This puts a strain on resources and makes it harder to prevent suicides. Good care and support from staff saves many lives but such instances go largely unreported. The Prison Service's approach, in close partnership with other agencies such as the Youth Justice Board, and outside organisations such as Samaritans, is to better identify and support those who seem at greatest risk, with a stress on relationships, care and the physical environment. The Prison Service's suicide prevention and self-harm reduction programme includes a series of projects to improve pre-reception, reception and induction arrangements. It also includes the exchange of information; the care of prisoners; detoxification; prisoners supporting each other, and learning from investigations into deaths in custody.

With regard to approved probation and bail hostels, the National Probation Service last year brought in strengthened reporting requirements on deaths of residents. They are also currently developing a national suicide and self-harm awareness and prevention strategy for staff in hostels, which will strengthen existing local procedures.