Report critical of self harm monitoring at prison

Lewes Prison
Lewes Prison

THE PRISON where inmate Tony Couchman killed himself has been criticised for having “notable deficiencies” in its self-harm monitoring training.

The comments were made in a report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons which carried out an unannounced inspection of Lewes prison last November.

Couchman, from St Leonards, bled to death in his cell in January 2010.

He had been accused of murdering his 19-year-old daughter Victoria Couchman in May 2008.

The report published this week said too few staff received refresher training in the self harm monitoring procedure.

It also stated that the Inspectorate was not assured that all staff would enter a cell on their own in an emergency to save a prisoner’s life.

Between May and October 2012 there were 44 incident of self harm which was deemed low for the type of prison.

Problems with self-harm and suicide monitoring had been raised back in 2007 by an HM Inspectorate’s report which stated some night staff not being trained in procedures or carrying ligature shears.

The 2012 report stated: “Levels of self-harm were low but there had been three self-inflicted deaths since the last inspection.

“Too few staff had received recent refresher training in the self-harm monitoring procedure and although the quality of documents we sampled was

reasonable there were notable deficiencies.

“We were not assured that all staff would enter a cell on their own in an emergency to preserve a prisoner’s life.”

The remarks were made in a 70 page report into the prison which housed 586 prisoners at the time of the inspection.

Another key concern was the lack of time prisoners spent out their cells with two fifths locked up during the working part of the day.

Nick Hardwick, chief inspector of prisons, stated: “HMP/YOI Lewes was a generally safe and decent prison but needed more meaningful work and training for prisoners.

“Inspectors were pleased to find that Lewes was a generally safe prison, although three prisoners had tragically taken their own lives since the last inspection.

“Recorded incidents of self-harm were low and self-harm prevention measures seemed adequate, although some aspects required attention.

“Time out of cell was limited, and inspectors found just under two-fifths of the population locked up during the working part of the day.

“Teaching needed improvement and there was too little vocational training, while much of the work on offer was mundane.

“Overall this is a good report. The progress we identified previously has been sustained, and the prison’s strengths, notably the safe and decent

environment, continue.

“Work is in place to strengthen the prison’s approach to resettlement further, although the lack of progress in getting prisoners in to meaningful work is disappointing.”

In August 2007, HM Inspectorate of Prisons carried out an announced inspection.

The report stated: “Attendance at some safer custody committee meetings had been poor. There was no routine access to Listeners for new arrivals and access was also uncertain for other prisoners. Crisis suites were not properly prepared and prisoners on constant observations were routinely

placed in strip conditions despite written instructions to the contrary.

“The quality of assessment, care in custody and teamwork documents was variable, although management checks were consistently good. Not all permanent night staff had been trained in procedures and not all carried ligature shears.”

Commenting on the 2012 report Michael Spurr, chief executive officer of the National Offender Management Service, run by the Ministry of Justice, said: “I am pleased that the chief inspector recognises the progress that has been made at Lewes and the respectful and safe environment it provides for the prisoners it holds.

“The report also notes the improvements to resettlement work, which helps to reduce re-offending and protect the public although more

needs to be done for the potential of that work to be fully realised.

“The Governor and his staff are working to further improve performance particularly with regard to purposeful activity as highlighted in the report.”

Mark Gettleson, of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Although inspectors found Lewes Prison to be ‘generally safe’, it is disturbing that three inmates had taken their lives since the previous inspection.

“Three self-inflicted deaths in prison are three too many.

“The number of people taking their own lives in custody across the country has fallen significantly in recent years – from 103 in the 12 months from September 2003 to September 2004 to 56 in the 12 months to September 2011/12.

“This is due in part to better staff training and greater awareness of the problems vulnerable people experience behind bars.

“Efforts must continue to ensure this trend is not reversed.

“It is essential that prison staff are regularly assessed and given fresh training so they are fully aware of procedures and have the skills they need to respond swiftly and effectively in an emergency.”