Every death in prison custody is a tragedy. The Ministry of Justice records the number of self-inflicted deaths and does not make any attribution of intent; that is determined at inquests. In the last five years, there have been 108 self-inflicted deaths in prison custody of prisoners on remand. Safer cells are designed to have fewer obvious ligature points than conventional cells, but no cell can be entirely safe and free of ligature points. Three of those deaths were recorded as having taken place in safer cells.
I am grateful for that answer, but if the Prison Service had taken any notice of my Adjournment debate in 2000 on safer cells in prison, it would know that the quick arithmetic is that several hundred lives would have been saved. Will the Minister give an assurance that the Prison Service will get its act together and take the positive measures necessary for safe cells, which would minimise deaths in prison?
When I get back to my office I shall make it my business to read the hon. Gentleman’s Adjournment debate from 2000, as I recognise that he has a serious interest in this subject. Let me tell him the action that we are taking to deal with this issue. First, we accept, and act on, the many recommendations of the prisons and probation ombudsman. I also point out to the hon. Gentleman that the increase in deaths has occurred in a range of prisons in different circumstances, so there is no obvious pattern. We are putting additional resources and support into safer custody work and in particular into improving the consistency of the application of the case management system for prisoners identified as at risk of self-harm or suicide, and there is also additional support at regional level to share good practice.
This morning the Minister very kindly provided to the Justice Committee for publication the latest figures on suicides in prisons for 2011, 2012 and 2013 and nine months of last year. They show a total of 256 suicides in our prisons during that period. At the same time the Minister provided us with the figures on the ratio of the number of prisoners to staff. It has gone up from 3.8 to 4.9 in the same period. Does he not see a correlation between fewer staff dealing with more prisoners and less safe prisons?
I recognise that the hon. Gentleman, who is a distinguished member of the Justice Committee, takes a serious and ongoing interest in this. As I said to the hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell), the rise in self-inflicted deaths has taken place in contracted prisons, which have not been subject to reductions, as well as in public sector prisons and prisons that have completed the benchmarking process, so there is no obvious connection between the two. I would just repeat what I have said: we look at every single death; we learn the lessons from the coroner’s report and the prison and probation ombudsman; we have put in extra resource both at prison level and at regional level to try to reduce the number of deaths; and we are absolutely as concerned about this as the hon. Gentleman rightly is.