Prison officers issued knives to ‘cut suicide rate’

In a wonderfully twisted solution to poor mental health care, prison officers in UK’s Winchester Prison are being issued knives in an attempt to reduce suicide rates by allowing them to cut down prisoners they find hanging in their cells.

Mental health care in prison is notoriously bad (a recent reported noted one third of UK young offenders are mentally ill), and many operate as little more than surrogate psychiatric facilities – without the psychiatry or the facilities. There is a similar situation in the USA.

I’ve spent some time trying to track down the latest reports on HMP Winchester but with very little success, although from what I can find Winchester seems to be a particularly bad example.

This news story incidentally mentions that a recent report “attacks the policy of keeping people with mental health problems locked up in prison healthcare wings when they should be receiving treatment from trained staff.”

This written response to a 2001 parliamentary request for a information on suicide rates in the prison shows them spiralling out of control to almost eight times the national average. More recent figures show it to have one of the highest number of prison suicides in the country.

The spectacularly broken website of the Independent Monitoring Board, the body that reports on prison conditions, lists the last published annual report as 2004.

This report notes that “The problem of prisoners with severe mental disabilities is raised time and time again” and also notes the lack of mental health care facilities “leaves Prison Officers no choice but to deal with these prisoners even though they are not medically trained so to do”.

It seems prison suicides have been a more recent matter of parliamentary concern and the actual prevention guidelines (which seem remarkably sensible) are available online as a Word doc.

Link to article ‘Prison issue knives to officers to cut suicide rate’ from Hampshire News (via TWS).

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