Downsize prison to tackle suicide crisis

Date: 
Thursday, 26 January, 2017

Our Director, Richard Garside, has called on the government to develop a long-term plan to downsize prisons across England and Wales. The government should aim to at least halve the number of people locked up over the next twenty years, he said.

His call comes as new figures reveal that a record number of people killed themselves in prison last year. In 2016, 119 people killed themselves in prison. In 2010, when the Conservatives returned to government in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, there were 58 suicides in prison.

In 1978, when the recording of prison suicides first started, 16 people killed themselves. Deaths in prisons from all causes stood at 354 in 2016, also the highest figure on record.

Last month, the former Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, the former Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, and the former Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith called for the government to halve the prison population. A failure to do so, they argued, would prolong the prisons crisis and 'do untold damage to wider society'.

Speaking today, Richard Garside said:

This is a predictable consequence of tough but dumb crime policies pursued by this government, and by the previous coalition and Labour governments.

Twice as many people killed themselves in prison last year compared with five years ago. This is a totally unacceptable situation.

While Ministers express concern and promise action, they are failing to address the real problem: the unnecessary imprisonment of thousands of our fellow citizens every year, often in disgraceful and distressing conditions.

Ministers need to get a grip on this problem, and develop a long-term plan to at least halve the numbers in prison over the next twenty years.