System Failing to Prevent Deaths Post-Detention

19th December 2016

Poor access to health care and confusion over post-detention care may have contributed to more than 400 deaths following police custody and prison detention since 2009, a new report has claimed.

The report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which follows on from the 'Preventing Deaths in Detention' inquiry, reveals a worrying picture of serious gaps in post-detention care caused by a lack of accountability and inadequate record-keeping by responsible agencies. The EHRC report, conducted by Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Cambridge, is an in-depth analysis of existing data and working practices across police and prison agencies from April 2009 to March 2016. In 2015-16, there were 60 apparent suicides within two days following police custody, 18 of which occurred on the day of release, 24 one day after release and 16 two days after release. These deaths are linked to high levels of shame and problems in coming back into the community. The number of suicides is thought to be higher than 60 as the police are often not aware of a death, meaning the link between the death and police custody will not be made. The findings also reveal that from 2010-2015 there were 66 non-natural deaths following release from prison, most of which were from a drug overdose and within ten days of release. Drug use is a significant factor in post-prison deaths. Research has found that drug using ex-prisoners are up to eight times more likely to die in the first two weeks of release when compared to non-drug using ex-prisoners. Mental health is another significant factor in both post-police custody and prison deaths. Of the 60 people who took their own lives following police custody, 33 had known mental health conditions including depression, schizophrenia, or previous suicide attempts. Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, David Isaac said: -When the state detains people it also has a very high level of responsibility to ensure they are rehabilitated back into the community safely, particularly for people who may be vulnerable. -Our report reveals serious cracks in our state detention system of care that is potentially leading to hundreds of deaths. -These 'hidden deaths' are a very real and serious issue. The government and justice agencies must address some of the neglect and basic mistakes to tackle the unacceptable and inadequate support for people who have done their time. Dr Jake Phillips, senior lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University's Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice and co-researcher on the report, said: "People are dying from non-natural causes upon release from state detention and this is a cause for concern. More can, and should, be done in terms of identifying which deaths can be prevented and how to go about doing so. "While some deaths are unavoidable or unpreventable, our research suggests that there are some areas of practice which are in need of improvement. Good risk assessment and communication will undoubtedly have a positive effect on this problem. "The introduction of a more fractured probation service is likely to affect communication channels and risk assessments. Our research highlights examples of where cuts to services, especially mental health services, have had an impact on the ability of services to refer appropriately to specialist care." Click here to read the full report Non-natural deaths following prison and police custody on the Equality and Human Rights Commission website.

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