A MANCHESTER-based nurse claims staff at the city’s prisons are trying desperately to improve mental health services but are under strain because of cuts.
Latest figures reveal that 2016 has been the highest year for suicide in prisons across England and Wales since records began in 1978.
Mental health nurse Thomas Flanagan, 52, from Bury, said the rising rates could be caused by factors such as the pre-existing mental health problems of the prisoners, but the suicides were most likely to be because of “staffing levels” in the prisons.
He says the prisons need to employ more people who can monitor and watch people that may be vulnerable to self-harm and that the figures around the country are likely to mirror Manchester prisons too.
He said: “The support services within the prisons, specifically the mental health teams, work hard to monitor the well-being of all prisoners.
“I think they maybe have limited time, unfortunately because of the staffing levels and recruitment levels especially within Greater Manchester.”
The prison reform charity, The Howard League for Penal Reform, was first to release the figures of the rising suicide rates in prisons last week alongside another charity, Centre for Mental Health.
Statistics showed how the prison suicide rate across England and Wales is 10 times higher than the general population’s – more than 102 people have killed themselves so far this year- averaging one inmate dying every three days.
Prisoners can be locked in their cells for as long as 23 hours. Click here for more information on the rising statistics in prisons.
In 2015 the Prison Reform Trust also revealed 49 percent of male prisoners at HMP Manchester (previously known as Strangeways prison) were held two to a cell designed for one.
The current rate of self – inflicted deaths in prisons across England and Wales could mean the final toll for 2016 may rise to 115, compared to a smaller figure of 89 in 2015.
Mr Flanagan added: “I don’t think there is a difference between Manchester prisons and the rest of England, I think there is a deficit of staff numbers everywhere.
“The government focus to invest within the prisons itself and to set aside funding for mental health and support care in the prisons over recent times may have been limited.”
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Mark Day, head of policy and communications at the Prison Reform Trust, said: “This cannot be allowed to become the new normal. The government’s forthcoming prison safety and reform plan must get to grips with a dangerously deteriorating situation. The lives of people who live and work in prison depend on it.”
Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement last week confirmed an extra £555 million to fund prisons over the next three years. He hopes this will improve safety measures, which include the recruitment of 2,500 extra prison officers.