I read this in today’s Times. Two things are predictable about mainstream media reports when prison suicides statistics are released. Those who have ended their own lives become ‘people’ rather than men and women. And government ministers and spokesmen/women will attribute prison suicides to mental health issues, in effect victim blaming.
Extracts from the Times article:
More than 100 prisoners have killed themselves in jails in England and Wales this year, the highest since records began…
Liz Truss, the justice secretary, has received £100 million to boost prison safety, including hiring 2,500 frontline staff. A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “Mental health in custody is already taken extremely seriously and there are a range of measures already in place to help support prisoners.”…
The number of prison officers fell from 25,902 in March 2010 to 18,004 last September. [Note – a 30.5% fall]
As is customary on such occasions, coverage is given to remarks by Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform (HLPR). I am unable to find any recognition on the website of the fact that men are very considerably over-represented in the prison system, and that this fact merits recognition and action. Instead the site has a section on Women in the penal system, with the strapline:
Our work to help women in trouble with the law.
The section relates to the 4,000 women in the penal system, no such section exists for the 80,000 men also in the system (and, of course, in worse conditions than the women face). Extracts from the page:
Women are a minority in the criminal justice system, accounting for approximately 5 per cent of the prison population and 15 per cent of those supervised in the community. The reasons that they end up involved in the criminal justice system are often very different to their male counterparts and their needs tend to be more complex…
In 2007, Baroness Corston published her seminal Review of Women with Particular Vulnerabilities in the Criminal Justice System, also know as the Corston Report. It concluded that imprisonment was disproportionate and inappropriate for the vast majority of women in prison and that women’s centres and other community services were far more suitable for almost all women in contact with the justice system.
The Howard League provides administrative assistance to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Women in the Justice System, chaired by Baroness Corston and Fiona Mactaggart MP. The APPG works to ensure high quality debate and discussion on issues around women in the justice system in Parliament and continues to push for the full implementation of the Corston Report recommendations.
The last word on Baroness Corston’s absurd report was penned by William Collins – The Corston Report: A Case Study in Gynocentrism.
You can get a sense of the gender balance of HLPR staff from a photograph on their website – here. It’s evidently an organization largely staffed by women, with a disproportionate focus on female prisoners.
The Times piece refers to a report – in truth, an extended press release – published today by HLPR and the Centre for Mental Health, 2016 becomes worst year ever recorded for suicides in prisons. It starts:
More than 100 people have lost their lives through suicide in prisons in England and Wales so far this year, an all-time record, it can be revealed today (Monday 28 November) as two charities publish new research on how to make jails safer.
So, what’s the gender breakdown of the 100+ ‘people’? I Googled ‘suicides in prison’ and one of the first sites I encountered was that run by Inquest, whose strapline ‘Working for truth, justice and accountability’ was encouraging. The top-level figures are here. They include both suicides and non-self-inflicted deaths, which have also risen considerably over the years. We learn that 102 ‘people’ have committed suicide in British prisons this year, with another 47 ‘awaiting classification’. There’s a page on Black and minority ethic deaths in prison (15 suicides), but no page with data for men specifically.
Ironically, we need to turn to the page on Deaths of women in prison to get the gender breakdown, there being no page for ‘Deaths of men in prison’. This shows 10 women committed suicide in prisons in England and Wales in 2016 to date, leaving 92 men who did so. So a little over 90% of the ‘people’ were men, as usual. Not something the HLPR thought worth mentioning in its report.
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