'She was ignored': Mother of youngest woman to die in prison says mental health services failed her

Annelise Sanderson was sentenced in June 2020 to 52 weeks, six months later she took her own life

The mother of the youngest woman to die in jail for 20 years says her daughter was failed by a lack of mental health support despite "screaming from the rooftops for help".

Annelise Sanderson was sentenced in June 2020 to 52 weeks in custody at HMP Styal after she assaulted a paramedic who went to her aid.

Six months later she took her own life. She was 18 years old. 

Ms Sanderson grew up in Runcorn in Cheshire and had struggled with her mental health from an early age.

The first time she attempted suicide she was just nine years old and her mother, Angela Gray, believes she should have been sent to a psychiatric hospital, not a prison. 

Eight days after she arrived at HMP Styal, Ms Sanderson was removed from suicide watch. Her mum says her calls for help were ignored

The teenager was initially due to be released on Christmas Eve but had four weeks added to her sentence for a separate matter and on December 22 she was pronounced dead in her cell, weeks before she was due to be released. 

"She [Annelise] just didn't care anymore," Ms Gray told ITV News.

"She was screaming from the rooftops for help, she was asking for help, I was asking for help for her, and she was just ignored.

"I think if she was given the right mental health support it could have helped her, given her better coping mechanisms rather than turning to self-harm and suicide.

"They could have given her tips and ideas on what to do if you feel like this, what to do if you feel like that. But she wasn't given that intervention; she wasn't given that chance."

'She was screaming from the rooftops for help': Annelise Sanderson's mother Angela Gray says her daughter's mental health was 'ignored'

Are other women being failed at HMP Styal? 

Ms Sanderson's death is one of 11 self-inflicted deaths at the prison since 2007, more than any other women’s prison in England.

She was the youngest woman to die in prison in 20 years and in December two women died there within a week. 

Rates of self harm in women’s prisons are at a record high, 11 times higher in female prisons than male ones. 

Latest government figures show rates of self harm rose by 11% in men’s prisons in the 12 months to the end of September 2023, but in women’s prisons they rose by 38%. 

Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor said in many cases it’s care not custody that women need. 

"Prison is not a mentally healthy environment," Mr Taylor told ITV News.

"It's not an environment where by and large people's mental health improves; in many cases it's an environment where people's mental health deteriorates, particularly, as we found depressingly often, when people are locked up in segregation units.

"These are often dark, dingy, often underground cells where staff are doing their best but it's not an appropriate place to keep someone who's ill."

'It's not an appropriate place to keep someone who's ill': Charlie Taylor HM Chief Inspector of Prisons told ITV News people's mental health often deteriorates in prison

What do the Ministry of Justice say? 

The inquest into the death of Ms Sanderson concluded that although there were failings in her care, procedures have since improved at HMP Styal.

The mental health budget at HMP Styal has tripled to £1.5 million since the death of Annelise. 

Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust has also introduced a new key worker system which includes weekly welfare checks for more complex prisoners.

And a senior psychologist now works two days a week at the prison while the waiting list for GP appointments had significantly reduced. 

In a statement, the Ministry of Justice told ITV News: “Our thoughts remain with Annelise Sanderson’s family and friends.

“The number of women in prison has fallen considerably since 2010 and we are continuing to invest millions into community services to steer female offenders away from jail and help get their lives back on track.

“However, for those women who judges decide must serve a prison sentence we are transforming the mental support on offer in our jails, including tailored, round-the-clock care, extra face-to-face time with specialist staff and improved self-harm training for all frontline officers.”

What help is available?

If you or someone you know are feeling emotionally distressed, the following organisations offer advice and support.

Samaritans: Available for anyone struggling to cope. They provide a safe place to talk 24 hours a day.

Phone: 116 123Website: Samaritans

Papyrus: Support, practical advice and information to young people considering suicide and can also offer help and advice if you’re concerned about someone you know.

Phone: 0800 068 41 41Website: Papyrus

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