Reducing deaths in custody: University findings to help shape policy

Professor Darrick Jolliffe

The university’s report, which could help shape future policy in this area, was commissioned by the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody (the IAP). It concluded that approaches such as identifying the mental health of those ‘at risk’ of self-harm or suicide, and forms of talk therapy for young people, could be significant in preventing many deaths.

The findings, Understanding and Addressing Self-Inflicted Deaths in Prison Amongst Those Aged 18-24, were presented to the Harris Review – an independent inquiry headed by Labour peer Lord Harris of Haringey, which is investigating how to reduce the number of these deaths each year. The inquiry was set up in response to the deaths of more than 160 young people in prison over the past decade.

The university’s research, led by Professor Darrick Jolliffe from its Centre for Criminology, included a review of other national and international studies on the subject. Other approaches likely to be successful included empathetic rather than harsh prison regimes, and the importance of skilled and motivated staff who can quickly recognise those who are at greater risk of suicide or self-harm.

Professor Jolliffe says: “Our review clearly showed that deaths in custody among young people can be reduced, but in order to do so the state must recognise that the experience of prison can be very traumatic for young people. Many of these, by virtue of their background, are already more vulnerable to self-harm or suicide.”
The IAP plays an important role in helping to shape government policy through the independent advice and expertise it gives to the Ministerial Board on Deaths in Custody.

In its ongoing research for the IAP, Professor Jolliffe’s team has also been exploring the link between mental illness and deaths in custody – something of a hitherto unknown area.

Professor Jolliffe, a member of the School of Law, within the Faculty of Architecture, Computing & Humanities, is a specialist on the psychology of crime and the development of criminal behaviour. He has previously carried out studies for the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the National Police Improvement Agency.

For more on the IAP-commissioned research into deaths in custody:

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Story by Public Relations

Picture: Professor Darrick Jolliffe.