The Government must ensure lessons are swiftly learned from a series of self-harm related deaths in prison over the last three years, ministers have been warned.
There have been 10 self-inflicted deaths in HMP Wormwood Scrubs between 2018 and 2022 according to official figures.
Andy Slaughter, the Labour MP for Hammersmith, believes legal investigations into prisoners’ deaths at the Victorian-era prison in West London are taking far too long to go ahead.
Mr Slaughter said the backlog in coroners’ courts meant that important lessons that could be learned from inquests are being delayed, potentially risking further harm to prisoners.
The news comes as the Government has launched an investigation into the conditions at another London prison, HMP Wandsworth, following the escape of terror suspect Daniel Khalife.
In Parliament, Mr Slaughter has raised the inquest of Luke Clarke, which took place this summer.
The 38-year-old was found dead in his prison cell in Wormwood Scrubs in April 2020.
“It found inadequate care, fear and confusion contributed to Luke’s death,” Mr Slaughter told MPs.
“What is the Ministry of Justice doing to prevent the unacceptable level of self-inflicted and avoidable death in prison, and what is it doing to speed up the inquest process?”
Justice minister Damian Hinds replied: “I’ve visited Wormwood Scrubs myself. Rates of self-harm are unacceptably high. They vary by place, of course in the women’s estate we have a particular issue with self-harm.
“We are working very closely with the National Health Service, who of course provide mental health support in prisons, and I am absolutely determined that we bring levels of self-harm down.”
Speaking to the PA News Agency, Mr Slaughter warned: “We have got six more of those inquests to come of people who, since Luke died three years ago, have taken their own lives in the Scrubs.”
But he added that these cases had faced delays in appearing at court, limiting coroners’ ability to provide authorities with recommendations on how to prevent similar deaths.
The Labour MP said: “If you are not even having the inquests, how can you have those reports through?
“The logic is, people will continue dying because the changes have not been made, because the inquests haven’t been held and the reports haven’t been written.”
He added: “This is true of every prison in the country and particularly the big Victorian prisons like Wandsworth, which is in the news for other reasons.”
Mr Slaughter has pressed justice ministers to meet with him and the charity Inquest to discuss self-harm at Wormwood Scrubs, as promised before Parliament’s summer recess.
Ministry of Justice figures show there have been a small but consistent number of self-inflicted deaths at the prison as far back as 1978, with similar pictures in other prisons.
In 2018, there were three self-inflicted deaths in the prison, followed by one in 2019, two in 2020, three in 2021, and one in 2022.
Inquest believes there have been further deaths in 2023.
Deborah Coles, director of the charity, said Wormwood Scrubs had a “long and dismal record of failing to protect the health and wellbeing of those who are owed a duty of care”, pointing to the conclusion given by the jury in Mr Clarke’s case.
She went on: “Dehumanising and impoverished regimes and conditions are the appalling reality for far too many people in prison, which exacerbates physical and mental ill health.
“We must urgently dismantle prisons, dramatically reduce prison numbers and redirect resources to holistic, welfare and community mental health services to prevent future deaths, not least at a time of increasing inequality and austerity.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We want to see far fewer self-inflicted deaths and self-harm in custody which is why we have increased staff training on self-harm prevention, are working with the NHS to improve mental healthcare and fund the Samaritans.
“We are also working to bring down coroners’ caseloads so grieving families can get the answers they need. This includes changing the law to streamline processes and investing over £6 billion to help local authority services – including coroner services – recover from the pandemic.”
– Samaritans can be called on 116 123, or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.