Mental Health and Deaths in Prison: Interim Report Contents

4Our inquiry

7.In 2016, the Committee’s Rapporteur on Mental Health and Human Rights, Amanda Solloway MP, carried out a number of informal meetings with key professionals working in the field of human rights and prison reform. She visited HMP Glen Parva, HMP/YOI Parc and the Anawim Centre, and shadowed a prison inspection at HMP Eastwood Park. Her findings informed the terms of reference for the inquiry which we announced on 14 December 2016.

8.Our inquiry has sought to establish whether a human rights based approach can lead to better prevention of deaths in prison of people with mental health conditions. The inquiry has been structured around three broad themes:

9.Our inquiry has also considered cross-cutting themes such as the importance of leadership, governance, recruitment, training, development and retention of good staff, resources, and identification of good practice. We have liaised closely with the House of Commons Justice Committee which has conducted a number of inquiries that overlap with ours in some of their themes, such as prison governance and performance, prison safety and staffing, and young adults in the criminal justice system, including in custody.6 However, our inquiry has focussed on those issues in the specific context of mental health and human rights.

10.There have been a number of detailed inquiries into the problem of deaths in custody in recent years, making a large number of recommendations. A number of reports have found that a common feature of such deaths is that they involved prisoners with mental health conditions, often as one of a number of multiple vulnerabilities, including, for example, abuse, discrimination, deprivation, poor education and lack of maturity.

11.Amongst the most significant of these reports are the following:

12.Our inquiry has focussed on why progress has not been made on preventing deaths in custody, despite the insightful analysis and many recommendations contained in the reports listed above. For this reason we began our oral evidence programme by hearing from the authors of some of those reports or representatives of the bodies which produced them: Baroness Corston, author of the 2007 Corston Report; Francis Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform which produced the 2016 report on Preventing Prison Suicide; Lord Harris, Chair of the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody from 2009 until 2015 and author of the 2015 Harris Review; and Juliet Lyon CBE, Lord Harris’s successor as Chair of the Independent Advisory Panel. On a later occasion we also took evidence from Lord Bradley, author of the 2009 Bradley Report. We probed with these witnesses why their reports had not had the impact they would have wished. We asked them which they regarded as their most important recommendations which had not been implemented, and why they thought they had not been implemented. The witnesses’ answers are set out in the published transcript of their evidence. We urge anyone concerned about these matters to read this.7

13.In addition, we have taken oral evidence from a wide range of other expert witnesses and interested parties, and had planned to take further oral evidence as set out in paragraph 17 below. We also received 43 written submissions. We are grateful to all who submitted evidence.

14.We wish to single out for special mention a number of witnesses whose lives have been directly impacted by the subject of our inquiry. We took oral evidence from the families of Dean Saunders, who took his own life on 4 January 2016 while remanded in custody at HMP Chelmsford, and of Diane Waplington, who took her own life in 2014 while detained in HMP Peterborough. We are very grateful to the families for sharing with us their experiences and their conclusions about lessons to be learned from these tragic events.

15.We also took oral evidence from two adults who had been sentenced by means of a hospital order under the Mental Health Act 1983
and are currently in a medium secure hospital, and two young people who at the time when they appeared before us were serving sentences in a Young Offender Institution. All four had personal experience of mental health issues within the prison system. They gave oral evidence in private, and an edited version of that evidence (redacted to ensure their anonymity, at their own request) has subsequently been published.8 We wish to thank these witnesses for their courage in volunteering and for the quality of their evidence, which was frank, moving and raised many issues of real concern.

16.We finally wish to thank our specialist advisor, Professor Philip Leach, Professor of Human Rights Law and Director of the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre at Middlesex University, for his invaluable assistance.9

6 The Justice Committee has published reports on prison safety (May 2016) and the treatment of young adult offenders in the criminal justice system (October 2016). It has announced an overarching inquiry into prison reform and conducted a first sub-inquiry into governor empowerment and prison performance, with a report published on 7 April 2017. Publication details of these reports are as follows: Justice Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2015–16, Prison safety, HC 625; Seventh Report of Session 2016–17, The treatment of young adults in the criminal justice system, HC 169; Twelfth Report of Session 2016­–17, Prison reform: governor empowerment and prison performance, HC 1123.

9 Professor Leach declared the following interests relevant to the inquiry: Professor of Human Rights Law, Middlesex University; Director, European Human Rights Advocacy Centre; Solicitor (member of Law Society of England and Wales); Board member, Open Justice Initiative; Vice-Chair, European Implementation Network; Co-Investigator, Human Rights Law Implementation Project.

29 April 2017