Prisoners dying ‘preventable deaths’ because of NPS, says ombudsman

Prisoners are dying ‘preventable deaths – particularly as a result of the alarming levels of drug abuse in jails’, says the annual report of the prisons and probation ombudsman. Acting ombudsman Elizabeth Moody said she was ‘gravely concerned’ at the destructive impact of NPS, with some prisons and their health providers ‘struggling to learn’ from investigations into deaths.

There continues to be ‘significant’ numbers of deaths where illicit drug use has played a role, says the report. These include ‘accidental or deliberate overdoses, suicides precipitated by drug-related mood changes or in response to drug-related debts and bullying, and heart attacks and respiratory failure in apparently fit individuals’.

While ‘all kinds’ of drugs were involved, the ‘destructive epidemic’ of NPS is now the ‘new normal’ in prisons, it states. Prisons often struggle with the consequences of ‘bad batches’ of NPS which can result in ‘simultaneous multiple collapses of prisoners, unsustainable demand on prison resources, ambulances queuing up at the prison gate and, all too often, death’.

The ease with which prisoners are able to obtain drugs in prison is ‘truly alarming’, the document adds. ‘A further concern is that staff too often tell us that they had no idea a prisoner was using illicit drugs before he was found dead in his cell.’

Prisons have been left to develop their own local strategies to cope with NPS ‘as best they can’ in a piecemeal fashion, it states. ‘Some are doing everything they can, some are trying but struggling, and others appear to have given up. In our view this is another area where there is an urgent need for a properly resourced national strategy, involving other agencies such as the police and healthcare providers, to reduce supply and demand.’

Earlier this year the prison service took over the running of HMP Birmingham from G4S after inspectors found the highest levels of violence of any local prison and an estimated one third of prisoners using illegal drugs (DDN, September, page 5).

Prisons & probation ombudsman annual report 2017-18 available here