Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Shame on Us!

Yes, it’s me again!

 “What?” you say, “So quickly? But we just heard from you.” I know but I have read, over the past few days, some very sickening and upsetting articles that I felt something had to be said. I don’t ask much of you dear reader, I really don’t. I am just humbled and honoured that you take the time to read my ranting. But this time, I really need your help. If you agree with anything I am about to say then I beg of you; copy, paste it, send it to your MP (get them to ask questions) or send it to the Ministry Of Justice, send it to Liz Truss and / or Sam Gyimah and demand a response. Tweet it, Facebook it, do whatever you want with it, but please do something.

Now I DO want to go off on a rant here.

A few months ago, I ranted (for that is my thing is it not?) on the issues of self harm in prison (Oh Captain, My Captain) and I mentioned three cases that came to my attention.

I have recently read three more stories over the last two days about men that have committed suicide in Prison and the findings of the Ombudsman & Coroner.  In all of these cases it was found that the suicides could have been prevented by those very authorities that were charged with the duty of care for that individual.

In a shocking case; Haydn Burton was found hanging in his cell after being remanded into custody on an assault charge. (For further info click here). It was recognised that Mr Burton suffered from mental health issues but Winchester Prison was found wanting in following up on his mental health issues. A jury “criticised the care offered to him and concluded there were missed opportunities to assess or reassess Mr Burton's risk of self-harm or suicide.”  The court heard that “poor communication between officers and managers, and between officers and healthcare teams, contributed to his death.”

 Read those last 4 words again, please. CONTRIBUTED TO HIS DEATH!  

 I think one of the most shocking parts of this inquest was when the Jury said that, it was "more likely than not" prison staff had been informed the inmate had a noose.” I wept with despair when I read this. The Prison knew that he had a noose and yet did nothing?

The second case that I wish to highlight is the case of Paddy Kelly who committed suicide in Maghaberry Prison in Northern Ireland. (For a more concise report on his death, click here). The Prison Ombudsman stated very clearly in his report that “His overdose was "foreseeable" and his death "preventable".  Again, as was the case with Mr Burton, Mr Kelly was known to have had mental health issues. He had on a number of occasions informed staff that he did not want to run the risk of keeping his medication in possession. This request was followed for a few days then for some unknown reason he was given his medication to keep. Mr Kelly then overdosed on his medication and died in hospital 2 days later. Even the nurse who "most probably" took the decision to return the drugs told investigators she had no recollection of doing so”. Oh come on! She had no recollection of doing so? Take notes, for God’s sake. I am sorry, should I be sympathetic to the nurse who contributed to Mr Kelly’s death? The report says that working in prison healthcare is difficult. I get that, I really do, I witnessed some of the abuse that the healthcare workers face when I was in prison. But it’s their job to care and provide healthcare services for those under its care. If you can’t do the job, don’t do it.

The third case is that of David Smith. Mr Smith arrived at Highpoint Prison in Suffolk back in May of 2014. He was stressed upon arrival an asked to speak to a Listener. A listener is a prisoner trained by the Samaritans to talk to prisoners on a confidential basis. It is a great service when provided properly. The Prison rules require that a Listener is present in reception but in this instance Highpoint failed in its obligation to provide one. He asked to speak to the Samaritans, as there is a dedicated telephone held on every wing for this very purpose. The phone wasn’t there. They couldn’t find it. Mr Smith attempted to hang himself that night and died the following day. (For Further Information click here).

These are only 3 cases of the 256 reported cases of suicide since the beginning of 2014 (information from I am not saying that all these cases were preventable, I am sure they weren’t but if one life is lost in prison due to the negligence of a staff member then shame on it and shame on us for allowing it to continue.

How many of you that have read these articles have read the standard response from the Prison Service media department “We will continue to learn from these such incidents”? LEARN from them? They shouldn’t have to learn from them because they shouldn’t happen.

We do not inflict the death penalty in the United Kingdom but for these three individuals listed above, their death was preventable and caused by the failures of the service that has a duty of care towards them. The blame lies at the feet of both the Prison Service and their Healthcare providers and they should be ashamed. 

Look; I am not asking you to judge those who are in prison, I am not asking you to pass judgement on their crimes and  I am not asking you to pass judgement on the morals of suicide. I am asking you to sit up and take notice that people are killing themselves in our prisons. In the three cases I mentioned above the prison / healthcare staff were alerted to problems, they just chose to ignore it.

On the Justice Website, their statement of purpose states c that “Our duty is to look after them with humanity and help them lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release.”  (MOJ). 

I am not a harsh critic of the Prison Service, per se. By that I mean that I sympathise with the staff and the hardship they face. I understand the chronic understaffing that faces the Prison Estate and have witnessed some of the terrible assaults inflicted on these good people. I have ranted on many occasions about the need for extra staff. A lot of credence is given to the victims of crime and indeed a lot of work with offenders is undertaken to have them understand the victim’s point of view. I ask now, are not the families of these men, whose deaths have been deemed preventable not victims themselves? If so, what is the prison service doing to rehabilitate itself?

Read that phrase from above again “People are killing themselves in our Prisons”. We as a society jail people that have transgressed the law. That is their punishment. Their mental health issues should be addressed just as they would be addressed if they were in the community. The society that jails its citizens has an obligation and a duty of care to that citizen. He should feel safe in his environment, be able to live a healthy and law abiding lifestyle (free from harm and bullying) whilst receiving the treatment he needs in order to rehabilitate himself. These are his basic human rights. We are a modern day society; we have compassion for our fellow human being. If we are the reason for removing a person from our society so should we be the society that ensures the above.

I said in my article for last week that any life that is lost in prison due to the lack of staffing should be noted on a wall inside the Ministry of Justice lest we forget who is to blame. I stand by that.

The death of any individual brought about by the mismanagement of another should be lamented. Just because they are prisoners does not make them any less of a human being.

I can only hope that the tortured souls of Messrs Burton, Kelly and Smith have found peace.

Of course, as always, the above is just my opinion, I could be wrong. But in this instance I do hope that even one of you may feel the same way.