Soaring prison suicides a 'direct result' of government cuts - Lord Falconer

Posted On: 
27th September 2016

The sharp rise in prison suicides is a "direct result" of government spending cuts, the former Justice Secretary has said.

Labour peer Lord Falconer
Credit: 
Hannah McKay/PA Wire

Lord Falconer, who was Labour's justice spokesman before resigning this summer, said a reduction in prison officers meant institutions were "no long as aware" of inmates' vulnerability.

The number of people taking their own lives in prison has soared in recent years, with a record 31 suicides in the second quarter of 2016. 

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The Labour peer, who was speaking at the party's conference in Liverpool, attributed the change to spending cuts. 

"Every coronor I meet says the big problem they have now got is the stark and sharp rise in suicides in prison, which they have got to deal with in the coronor's court," he told the event hosted by Justice, the Bar Council and the Society of Labour Lawyers.  

"It is beyond shameful that we as a nation sit back and do nothing about what is an incredibly dramatic rise in suicides in prison, which is a direct result of austerity cuts - primarily in reducing the number of prison officers, so that the proportion between prison officers and prisoners has gone down.

"The consequence of that is that prisons are now no longer as aware as they used to be of people who are at risk."

Earlier this year, then-Justice Secretary Michael Gove announced plans for radical changes to the UK's prisons, with a bill made the centrepiece of David Cameron's final Queen's Speech. 

But Liz Truss, Mr Gove's replacement, cast doubt on the future of the bill when she said she was "not committing" to any specific legislation.

Elsewhere in the fringe meeting, Lord Falconer described the Government's justification for cutting legal aid - that the public could not afford the cost - as "absolute poppycock", since the amounts involved were "absolutely tiny".