The exact role of the prison system in England and Wales is one which is often debated and a cause for much controversy amongst journalists and other observers. On one hand some people may argue that prisons should adopt a retributive nature seen as those incarcerated have committed crimes which have to be punished if they are to be reformed. Alternatively, some believe that prions should be rehabilitative with the main focus being on reforming an offenders character as opposed to penalising their wrongdoing. Nevertheless, whichever approach is taken, the key must be to uphold welfare as shown with an inquest identifying failings in prison care.
Joe Bartlett from Essex was serving a sentence at HMP Norwich when he was found hanged in his cell on 5th April 2017. A jury tasked with determining the prison’s culpability found that they had fallen below the expected standard of care when it came to be lessening the risk of self-harm and suicide in vulnerable inmates. They also cited a distinct failure to notice and then act upon the systematic bullying which Bartlett was subjected to on his wing. Joe’s Mother Michelle Ford was present at the inquest and spoke of the horrific fate which had befallen her son: –
“We have had to hear very harrowing evidence relating to Joe’s final days. It has been almost impossible to understand the total disregard by the prison and healthcare staff in managing Joe and the high and very real risks posed to Joe”
Taking into account the wider prison system; this comes only six weeks after a separate inquiry blamed HMP New Hall for Emily Hartley’s death in custody. Even though Hartley was subject to twice hourly observations as a suicide risk, it took prison staff two and a half hours to locate her body. The inquiry stated that her mental health and overall vulnerability had been disregarded with insufficient importance
Claire Brigham representing Bartlett on behalf of law firm Hodge Jones & Allen was critical of the prison system but highlighted that this could be used as a stepping stone to improve the system and prevent future incidents. She stated: –
“The Inspectorate criticised the prison’s investigations of these incidents. It is imperative that the proper procedures are now put in place to prevent further deaths”
The Prison Service have expressed considerable sympathy and offered condolences to Joe’s family. Furthermore, they have expressed a willingness to ensure that the tragic incident is not repeated in any of England’s prisons. A spokesperson stated: –
“Over 14,300 staff have already received new suicide and self-harm reduction training, and HMP Norwich are reviewing their violence reduction strategy to enable them to better manage perpetrators and support the victims of bullying”
They added that recommendations from the Prison and Probation Ombudsman, and will make sure we learn all possible lessons from this case.
Any death in custody is tragic and should make the system take a long hard look at itself. However, when the death involves a vulnerable individual in need of help and support, the situation is even worse. One can only hope the Prison System learns from its shortcomings.