17th December 2015

Today the government has published its response to the Harris Review into the self-inflicted deaths of 18-24 year olds in prison rejecting many of the expert panel’s key recommendations.

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST and a member of the Harris Review panel said:

“This is a complacent response to a report that offered an opportunity to make a break from the lamentable failings of the past. It is dismissive of those families, prisoners and others who contributed to this evidence based review. It fails to respond to the grim reality of prison life for young prisoners and the systemic disconnect between policy and practice which is a feature of so many deaths in custody.

It rejects 33 of the 108 recommendations, and prevaricates on many others.  It rejects the provision of non-means tested public funding for family legal representation after a death in custody.  In 63 pages (as opposed to 283 in Harris), it fails to address the compelling issues around the lack of oversight, accountability and learning lessons from previous self-inflicted deaths, as well as the devastating impact on families. It does not respond to the systemic lack of co-ordination across state agencies, crucial to the understanding of deaths.

Our fear is that this response will not adequately prevent future deaths. It will not provide relief to the families of those who have already died in prison or to those families who will experience the avoidable death of a relative in the future.”


Notes to editors:

INQUEST contributed to the review by submitting both written evidence and our report Stolen Lives and Missed Opportunities (published with Barrow Cadbury Trust) based on our work with bereaved families. We also organised two family evidence sessions and the report of these ‘Listening’ days is published too.

Since publication of the Harris Review in July 2015 there have been 5 further self-inflicted deaths in this age group and one other that is awaiting classification

Source: INQUEST Casework and monitoring

Harris Review recommendations rejected
Of the 108 recommendations contained in the Harris Review, the MoJ has today responded, in ways such as ‘agree’, ‘agree in part’, ‘agree in principle’, claiming the recommendation was beyond its remit or ‘subject to wider reforms’. Thirty-three of Harris Review’s recommendations were simply rejected.  Amongst the recommendations simply rejected were the following:

Prison Safety and Environment
All light fittings within cells should as standard be tested to ensure that they are not able to bear the weight of a young adult before any cell can be signed off as being fit for purpose as a safer cell.
Every prison should record and publish details of the time spent out of the cells for every prisoner; including time spent engaging in purposeful activity out of their cells. This information should be collated nationally for management information purposes and also to enable further analysis of outcomes.NOMS must accept that bullying wherever it occurs is a specific problem that requires specific, focussed responses. We recommend that NOMS must publish a specific Prison Service Instruction to cover the issue of bullying both from other prisoners and from staff and how custodial establishments can tackle and aim to reduce numbers of incidents. Bullying should not be subsumed into the policies that cover Violence Reduction.

A new specialist role must be created to work specifically with all young adults in custody.
Following each self-inflicted death in custody, the Minister for Prisons should personally phone the family of the prisoner who has died to express their condolences on behalf of the State and to promise that a full and thorough investigation will take place, and that any lessons from the death will be studied and acted upon to avoid similar deaths in the future. Each young adult (18-24 years) in custody must be assigned to a suitably qualified and experienced staff member who will act as their personal Custody and Rehabilitation Officer (CARO)

Staff and Training
From the evidence given to the panel from many sources, it is apparent that the current operational staffing levels in prisons are not adequate. Following the recruitment that NOMS is currently undertaking, Benchmarking levels should be reviewed immediately to allow for full compliance with Prison Service Instructions that concern the safety and well-being of prisoners and must include implementation of this report.

It is the collective responsibility of all relevant public agencies to ensure that no young adult who is identified as requiring detention and treatment/assessment in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983 should be detained in police or prison custody. This should be a ‘Never Event’. When a court is considering passing any form of custodial sentence upon a young adult (18 to 24) then a full written pre-sentence report must be commissioned.

Prisons must improve their processes for receiving information direct from the families of prisoners, particularly young adults.

NHS England should commission prison mental health services in line with the recommendations of this report. The Secretary of State for Justice should introduce legislation to create a statutory duty of cooperation for the sharing of information with the Prison Service to be placed upon those organisations that have direct engagement with the Prison Service (including health, mental health services, police, etc.).

After a self-inflicted death
Following a death there should be a ’Duty of Candour’ upon NOMS and its staff both towards those organisations responsible for managing the post death processes (such as the PPO and the coroner) and the families and friends of the deceased young adult.
Families of the deceased should have a right to non-means tested public funding for legal representation at an inquest. The costs of legal representation for the families should be borne by NOMS.

On Governance, Inspection, Monitoring and Investigation
HMIP and the PPO should have a statutory duty in consultation with the NPM and the IAP present a public report annually to the MoJ on deaths in NOMS custody and the progress in addressing the underlying issues identified from previous deaths. MoJ should be under a statutory duty to publish a detailed thematic response each year to this report. This should be considered by the Justice Committee of the House of Commons. The Chief Coroner should be provided with sufficient resources to enable him to report on themes emerging from prevention of death reports involving deaths in custody. All inquest findings, PFD reports and responses that relate to deaths in custody should be centrally collated and available for public search (subject to any necessary redaction).