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Deaths of women in prison

Baroness Corston was commissioned by the Labour government to conduct an independent review of women in prison. The Corston Report, published in 2007, set out 43 recommendations for reforms of the criminal justice system.

Since the publication of the Corston Report, charities such as INQUEST argue that there has been almost no progress on the necessary systemic and structural change needed (for further information see INQUEST’s report ‘Still Dying on the Inside). In fact, since the publication of the Report in 2007, 104 women have died in prison. Many of these have been potentially preventable deaths, raising serious concerns and questions about the safeguarding of human rights in prison.

Many, if not all, of the women in the criminal justice system are vulnerable in one or more ways. They have experienced personal trauma, including sexual abuse and domestic violence. For instance, 53% of women in prison in England report having experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse. However, their needs are not being met and as a result there are too many needless deaths.

After a record number of deaths in women’s prisons in 2016 and in particular self-inflicted deaths, the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody (IAP) published a report in 2017 identifying reasons for the sudden rise in deaths. These included amongst others: reduction in staffing; unmet mental health, drug and alcohol treatment needs; increase in illicit drug use; intimidation, bullying and debt in custody.

Recent deaths

Recent inquests into the deaths of women in prison confirm that prison management and the systems in place fail to provide adequate support to women in prison, and highlight failings by individual officers and healthcare staff.

The inquest into the death of Annabella Landsberg at HMP Peterborough recently concluded. The jury found that the behaviour of prison officers and a nurse contributed to Ms Landsberg’s death. After being restrained, Ms Landsberg was left unresponsive on the concrete floor of her cell for 21 hours before being taken to hospital, where she died three days later on 6 September 2017. In the period she was on the floor, she did not eat, drink any fluids or take any medication despite needing diabetic care. Staff dismissed her as faking. At the hospital, Ms Landsberg died of multi-organ failure.

Another inquest found that failures by HMP Bronzefield and healthcare staff amounted to neglect of Natasha Chin and that this lack of basic care contributed to her death. Ms Chin died in 2016, less than 36 hours after arriving at the prison. Despite telling the prison staff that she was unwell after being placed on the specialist drug and alcohol wing and vomiting for nine hours, she failed to receive medical attention or medication. Since Ms Chin’s death, there have been at least three more women found unresponsive in their cells at the prison.

We assist families who have lost a loved one to go through the inquest process. We offer advice and representation to help families get to the truth of what happened, in what is often a long and difficult journey. To find out more, please call us on 020 3131 8515 or make an enquiry online.

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