New Inquest Report: ‘10 people die each week following release from prison’
Deaths following release from prison have risen five-fold since 2010 according to a new report published by Inquest.
Following the hubbub surrounding the 2019 Winter Election, Deborah Coles, Executive Director of INQUEST argues in the foreword of INQUEST’s report into “Deaths of people following release from prison” that
“Any incoming government must guarantee immediate action to ensure greater scrutiny, learning and action to prevent the deaths of people following release from prison”.
The data within Inquest’s report shows:
- Self-inflicted deaths have increased ‘by more than a factor of 6’.
- The rate of self-inflicted deaths amongst those leaving prison is considerably higher than that of the general population and others in the criminal justice population.
- The self-inflicted death rate for individuals on post-release supervision is 212 out of 100,000, compared to 13.6 out of 100,000 for the general population.
- Women leaving prison are ‘at significantly greater risk of taking their own lives when compared to women in the general population’
- The self-inflicted death rate for women on post-release supervision during 2018-19 was 459 out of 100,000 compared to 4.6 out of 100,000 for women in the general population
- Following the introduction of the Offender Rehabilitation Act in 2014 (ORA) between 2014/15 and 2018/19, the numbers of people dying each year whilst under post-release supervision increased.
- 25% of post-release deaths were recorded by probation officers as ‘unclassified’ and were generally not updated when the cause of death was discovered.
Inquest have called for urgent scrutiny into these figures as there is currently no independent investigation being taken into identifying the cause of these deaths post-release which would enable us to effectively understand how to address and prevent them.
One of the potentially contributing factors to these deaths was identified as the major overhaul to the probation policy landscape, with the introduction of the ORA.
The Act not only increased the caseload for a probation officer but also changed the types of people they were responsible for; people with shorter custodial sentences are ‘more likely to lead chaotic lives and face particular vulnerabilities’ which will ‘have had an impact on the mortality rate’.
To say an increase in caseload is responsible for the increase in deaths does not take account of the wider context; the number of deaths following release far surpassed the increase in caseload. The report highlights the need for a thorough review into all deaths to determine whether the death was linked to drug or alcohol misuse, risk-taking behaviour, violence, a known physical condition and/or a self-inflicted injury. Such data could allow stakeholders to create a framework to protect individuals who are understood to suffer from one of these conditions.
The lack of clarity around the data collected, the procedures implemented and broadening of roles and responsibilities inside the system make it difficult to be certain on what is causing this increase in deaths post-release. What is clear is that people are being released into failing support systems, poverty, homelessness and an absence of services for mental health and addictions., as Deborah Coles succinctly terms it, a ‘state abandonment’.