21-year-old Emily Hartley was serving a sentence for arson in HMP New Hall. “She had been allowed into the prison’s exercise yard at about 2.30pm and was found hanged around two and a half hours later.” An inquest jury has now determined the failure of the prison’s staff to implement suicide watch to be a factor in the young prisoner’s suicide.
In 2015, Emily Hartley attempted to set fire to herself, her bed and curtains in a building she was occupying with others at the time, an event after which Hartley was diagnosed with emotionally unstable personality disorder. She soon broke her bail conditions and was sentenced to over two years at HMP New Hall where prison officers allegedly spoke of attacking Hartley physically. Hartley would eventually fall in the habit of self-harm and attempting to overdose on antibiotics belonging to other patients.
The Guardian reports:
“[…] the jury found staff at the prison had failed to properly implement policies for monitoring suicide and self-harm (known as ACCT) and “did not have sufficient training and therefore understanding of [her]condition”. “Whilst we can empathise with the difficult and demanding job prison staff have, rigorous adherence to the ACCT process should be paramount,” they said. “The failure to apply the ACCT process as intended was a key contributing factor to Emily’s death.”
It has been furthermore reported that Hartley’s disappearance on the day of her suicide went unnoticed for a significant length of time by prison staff who “were distracted by searching two prisoners suspected of dealing drugs”.
HMP New Hall has suffered four deaths in 2016, including Emily Hartley. Three of these deaths have been declared to have been self-inflicted, with the cause of the remaining death not yet known for sure. As the Guardian points out, “[w]hile women still only make up 5% of the prison population, they account for some 21% of all incidents of self-harm across the prison estate.” The Women In Prison organization website further points out that:
“Women in custody are five times more likely to have a mental health concern than women in the general population [and]46% of women in prison report having attempted suicide at some point in their lifetime.”
More must be done to ensure proper training and proper care of vulnerable prisoners. Hopefully, findings such as this one will provide the appropriate propelling force for reform.