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Prison suicide rates at 'alarmingly high level'

Suicide rates behind bars remain at an "alarmingly high level" as eight people took their own lives in the West Country alone last year.

Figures show four people took their own lives in Exeter prison, while two more died in Guys Marsh in Dorset. Deaths by suicide were also recorded in Dartmoor and Erlestoke prisons.

Dartmoor Prison Credit: ITV West Country

As the number of prisoners grow annually, and chronic overcrowding and staff cuts hit systems hard, deaths by suicide have risen by 46 per cent in the last three years.

The figure is among a total of 29 people who committed suicide across the country, with a further eight prisoners killed in apparent homicides during 2015 - the highest number in a single year since current recording practices began in 1978.

No one should be so desperate whilst they are in the care of the state that they take their own life.

The numbers hide the true extent of misery for prisoners and families – and for staff, who have been given the impossible task of keeping people safe in overcrowded prisons starved of resources.

The question now for the Ministry of Justice is: what to do? This level of deaths, violence and anguish in prisons cannot continue to rise in a civilised society.

We cannot go on cramming more people into jails without any thought for the consequences.

– Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform
Credit: Anthony Devlin/PA

The Howard League for Penal Reform and Centre for Mental Health, supported by The Monument Trust, are working together on a joint programme on preventing people from dying by suicide in prison.

They saw around 40 per cent of prisoners who died by suicide in 2015 were on remand at the time of their deaths - despite people on remand make up only 15 per cent of the prison population at any one time.

Evidence suggests people held in prison on remand, or have been recalled while on licence, are disproportionately likely to take their own lives.

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