1st July 2015

Changing Prisons, Saving Lives Report of the Independent Review into Self-inflicted Deaths in Custody of 18-24 year olds - the Harris Review is published today.

Deborah Coles, Co-Director of INQUEST said:

“This important report is a devastating indictment of a flawed system that is systematically failing. That its findings echo what has been said repeatedly and that so many deaths could have been avoided if already-known lessons had been acted upon is all the more shocking.

Government can either ignore this report at its peril or do something radically different that could be a lasting legacy. Already this year eight young people have taken their own lives in prison.

This should be a watershed moment and provides the basis for a complete transformation in policy. Justice Minister Michael Gove should take the opportunity to make a clear and clean break from the lamentable failures of the past.

As this evidence based report documents, prison is an ineffective and expensive intervention that fails in its stated aims.  It fails to rehabilitate but also fails to protect those in its care. It also fails both victims and communities.  We support the call for a reconsideration of the purpose of prison. Unless as a society we reconsider dramatically why so many young people in conflict with the law end up in prison, the deaths will continue along with the on-going trauma for grieving families.”

INQUEST’s work over 25 years has persistently drawn attention to the issues addressed by the review and our lobbying and policy work informed its commission. We 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.

A panel of experts, including INQUEST’ s Co-Director Deborah Coles, has conducted a fundamental review of a wide range of evidence, including the broader reasons why so many young people die in custody and concluded that all young people in prisons are vulnerable. The panel has reviewed qualitative and quantitative data - much for the first time - generated not only official sources but by a range of stakeholders, including the families of the bereaved themselves to 'experts' and professionals. It is an impressive exercise in rigour that should not be wasted as the sheer range and volume range of evidence gathered makes this a unique learning opportunity, a watershed.

INQUEST has argued for a fundamental rethink about the use of prison and calls for a political boldness and a more steadfast willingness to implement evidence-based change. In a comprehensive set of findings it is clear that the Harris report is informed by our evidence and the experience of families and endorses what INQUEST has repeatedly said about a failing system and the need for “radical change”.  In one of its key conclusions the report states:

“Unless progress is made on the proposals that we have made, young people will continue to die unnecessarily in our prisons and we will continue to waste countless millions of pounds in failing to rehabilitate those who could be rehabilitated, in locking up those for whom a non-prison option would be more appropriate, and in failing to intervene early enough to prevent people from entering the criminal justice system in the first place”


Notes to editors: