2nd May 2017

Deborah Coles, director of INQUEST said:
“This much needed scrutiny from the Joint Committee on Human Rights over mental health and deaths in prison is welcome and we hope the incoming committee will continue this crucial work. There have been a plethora of previous reports, recommendations and proposals to protect the health and safety of prisoners and staff in British prisons. The vast majority of these have been systematically ignored and have done nothing to end the unacceptable death toll.

Ministry of Justice statistics published last week showed that the rate of self-inflicted deaths has more than doubled since 2013. Too many of these deaths are preventable and highlight systemic failings in care. A legal framework can help to address some of these concerns. However concrete, lasting change can only happen if there is a dramatic reduction in the prison population, an end to the criminalisation of people with mental health problems, and diversion from prison and investment in alternatives.

At INQUEST we see the human impact of the deaths behind the statistics and welcome the committees acknowledgment of this. Only days ago the inquest into the death of Daniel Dunkley in Woodhill prison found a litany of serious failures in mental health and suicide prevention procedures, which amounted to neglect. He was one of 18 deaths in that prison since 2013. These issues had repeatedly been highlighted by the Prison and Probation Ombudsman in response to previous deaths and the governor admitted that if the prison had implemented previous recommendations Daniel would probably not have died.

These problems are system wide and the lack of learning and action continues to contribute to preventable deaths. As such we are pleased the committee have highlighted our recommendation on the need for an independent oversight mechanism to oversee the implementation of recommendations made following a self-inflicted death in prison.”


For further information, please contact: Lucy McKay on [email protected] or 020 7263 1111

  1. The Joint Committee on Human Rights interim report is available here (see pg.10 for independent oversight mechanism issue). Comments from the committee’s chair, Harriet Harman are available here.

    2. INQUEST gave written evidenceto the inquiry. Our director also gave oral evidenceand supported the families of Dean Saunders and Diane Waplington to give oral evidence. Mark Saunders, father of Dean Saunders told the inquiry: “In this country we do not give a death sentence, but for everyone who has taken their life in prison that is exactly what they got.”

    3. The inquest of Daniel Dunkley concluded on 28 April 2017. More info on Daniel’s inquest is available here and a report on our call for corporate manslaughter investigation can be found here.
  2. Ministry of Justice (MOJ) stats show the rate of self-inflicted deaths in prison has more than doubled since 2013.

INQUEST provides specialist advice on deaths in custody or detention or involving state failures in England and Wales. This includes a death in prison, in police custody or following police contact, in immigration detention or psychiatric care. INQUEST's policy and parliamentary work is informed by its casework and we work to ensure that the collective experiences of bereaved people underpin that work. Its overall aim is to secure an investigative process that treats bereaved families with dignity and respect; ensures accountability and disseminates the lessons learned from the investigation process in order to prevent further deaths.

Please refer to INQUEST the organisation in all capital letters in order to distinguish it from the legal hearing.