Prison of deaths: Government urged to intervene at Woodhill Prison

The government has been urged to intervene at Woodhill Prison, which was this week branded unsafe after eight inmate deaths.

The news of yet another hanging – on the very same day an inquest dealt with a previous prisoner suicide – has caused existing concerns to erupt into a crisis.

Watchdogs at the Howard League for Penal Reform have now called for an urgent Government review to tackle Woodhill’s problems and protect all remaining inmates.

“The blunt truth is that so many deaths suggests the prison is not safe,” said director of campaigns Andrew Neilson.

“The Ministry of Justice should step in and conduct a review to determine the nature of the problems, prioritising the safety of prisoners and providing the resources required to put an end to these unnecessary deaths.”

On Friday, just as officers found eighth victim 28-year-old Daniel Byrne hanging in his cell, the Howard League was preparing to publish a report slamming Woodhill as overcrowded.

It revealed the building has too many prisoners to be “safely and decently” accommodated, with 719 inmates rather than its recommended 660. The government, however, says it could hold 100 more.Last year the Citizen reported how the prison was suffering severe staff shortages, with the number of frontline officers cut by 36 per cent. At the same time Woodhill was criticised by the independent Monitoring Board for soaring numbers of self harm

incidents, low staff morale and a high suicide rate.

Last week’s inquest heard how prisoner Dwane Harper hanged himself in his cell

after being assessed as low risk of self harm on arrival.

This was despite previous suicide attempts and a long history of mental health problems.

Coroner Tom Osborne was unaware that while the inquest was happening, Daniel Byrne was committing a copycat act. It is not known whether he and Mr Harper were friends in prison.

Said Mr Neilson: “It is deeply concerning that this is the eighth death and sixth apparent suicide at Woodhill since 2013. He is worried the staff shortages exacerbate the risk of suicide because there are insufficient officers to get prisoners out of their cells and into productive activities.

A Prison Service spokesperson said:“Every death in custody is a tragedy which is why reducing the number of self-inflicted deaths is a priority for the Prison Service.”