THE suicides of two young people in a North-East prison will be investigated by a fresh review, campaigners said yesterday (Thursday, February 6).
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling bowed to pressure by asking an independent advisory panel to probe all recent “self-inflicted deaths of 18 to 24-year-olds” in custody.
Only last year, ministers rejected demands for an overarching inquiry to tackle systemic failings that individual inquests could not address.
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Now Labour peer Lord Harris of Haringey, the chairman of the Independent Advisory Council on Deaths in Custody, will report back to Mr Grayling by spring next year.
Since 2011, 48 people aged between 18 and 24 have died in custody, of which the vast majority – 41 – committed suicide.
The campaign group Inquest said they included two young people who hanged themselves at Durham Prison:
- Angel Vadoua, aged 23, in May 2011
- Kirk Duboise, aged 22, in February 2013
Mr Grayling has also shelved plans to close seven young offender institutions dedicated to holding 18 to 24-year-olds.
Ministers will now await the outcome of the Harris review before deciding to move young offenders into mainstream adult prisons.
However, Inquest – while giving the review a “cautious welcome” – criticised the decision to exclude suicides of under-18s and those that took place before 2007.
For those reasons, it will not include the death of 14-year-old Adam Rickwood, at the Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, near Consett, County Durham, in August 2004.
The youngest person to die in custody in the modern era, Adam was found dead six hours after being restrained by four officers, who carried him to his cell and left him with a bleeding nose.
A jury inquest later found that the use of such restraint techniques were part of “an unlawful regime” at privately-run Hassockfield.
Deborah Coles, co-director of Inquest, said: “It is shameful that the deaths of children under the age of 18 are excluded from this review given that some of the most compelling evidence about systemic failings is raised by these cases.
“The narrow remit of the review is also a cause for concern – the journey into custody is as relevant to the deaths of these young people as what happens to them inside prison walls.”
In a statement, Mr Grayling said: “The purpose of the review will be to make recommendations for reducing the risk of future deaths in custody.
“Although the review will focus on 18 to 24-year-olds, it will identify learning that will benefit any age group.”
Inquest said two other under-24s have died in North-East jails since 2011, when it started keeping comprehensive records.
One was 22-year-old Mitchell Harrison, murdered in Frankland Prison, in October 2011. In May that year, 22-year-old Norman Minto died from pneumonia, in Durham Prison.