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The rise of prison suicides in England and Wales

 Jess Davidson 21 Feb 2017 Nursing in Justice and Forensic Health Care

The first response I had to the news that prison suicides are the highest since records began in 1978 is deep sorrow for those who committed suicide and for the 119 families grieving a loved one under these most difficult of circumstances.

And then there are the friends who may be experiencing similar difficulties and who have to face the loss of an associate while wrestling with the possibility of suicide as a potential solution to their own problems.

So what has caused this increase in suicides? Is it accurate to surmise it is because of the increase in prisoner population? Or is it because there are fewer staff? A reduction in staff numbers causes greater isolation for prisoners as it curtails activity and occupation as a result.

There has also been a rise in violent incidents in prisons. And a toxic mixture of boredom, loneliness and physical inactivity allows people to ruminate and dwell on hopelessness and powerlessness.

The increase in use of novel psychoactive substances also has a relatively unknown but deleterious effect on the mental wellness of anyone who takes them.

As professionals we recognise the complex health and care needs of people in prison. The solution is how to deliver the care that is required. A shift in culture that allows for recovery and rejuvenation may sound naïve but it comes from a place of experience.

Your own wellbeing as a staff group has a direct impact on the wellbeing of the people you deliver care to. This is a really good place to start: building on what we have already and supporting the expertise and experience of all staff in prisons who must be allowed to work together to safeguard and assure this most vulnerable of patient groups.

Jess Davidson

Jess Davidson

Chair RCN Nursing in Justice and Forensic Nursing Forum

Senior Clinical Forensic Charge Nurse

Jess was a member of the steering committee for the RCN Nursing in Criminal Justice Forum before becoming Chair of the merged Forensic Nursing and Nursing in Criminal Justice Settings forums in 2016. She is a dual qualified nurse and non-medical prescriber who has worked in a variety of emergency settings such as A&E, acute adult trauma and ITU.