AT least 200 offenders died while under the supervision of the region’s probation services last year, more than a third of whom killed themselves.

More than a thousand people on probation in England and Wales died in 2018/19, with a spike in suicides contributing to the highest number of reported deaths in almost a decade.

Homelessness, welfare reform, probation service changes, unemployment and a lack of support following custodial sentences are some of the issues that could impact significantly upon the mental health of those adjusting to life post-prison, experts have suggested.

Ministry of Justice figures show that 80 people on the books of the four probation agencies operating in the North-East and North Yorkshire took their own lives in that period, compared to 60 the year before.

Bleak statistics released last week show there has been 779 self-inflicted deaths of offenders linked to the area since 2014/15, contributing to an overall figure of 1,332 suicides in England and Wales.

Helen Attewell, CEO of charity Nepacs – which supports offenders and their families – said the “shocking” figures were an indictment of a system that “cannot effectively meet people’s basic needs”.

She added: “Those people who are trying to turn their lives around after committing a crime and being punished need to have hope for a better future.

“Hope of employment, hope for somewhere safe to life, hope that there will be someone to care about them – a family member or a statutory agency.

“We know many people in the criminal justice system also have issues around addiction and may suffer from mental health problems.

“Without adequate support, the future looks like a bleak place – there must be more join-up between agencies, including the charitable sector, and clear focus on help for some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

The 337 suicides in England and Wales represent a year on year increase of 19 per cent and account for 31 per cent of the deaths of offenders on probation in 2018/19.

The total number of deaths rose by 13 per cent in a year, and has almost doubled – from 557 to 1,093 – since the probation system underwent controversial reform in 2014/15.

The launch of the contentious Transforming Rehabilitation Programme saw the service split in two amid warnings from within the MoJ.

The National Probation Service and its eight divisions now supervise high risk offenders while 21 private companies manage those deemed low or medium risk.

Jenny Chapman, who will be defending her Darlington seat in this election, was Shadow Prisons Minister at the time and believes the changes had a negative impact on the lives of many offenders.

She said: “There is a lack of adequate mental health support and a failure to provide sufficient rehabilitation for offenders, which can lead them to make very sad decisions.

“Changes to the probation service have undoubtedly contributed and have been a catastrophic failure from start to finish.”

A spokeswoman for the Probation Service said: "Probation reforms introduced since 2014 have led to 40,000 additional offenders being supervised every year, and our staff do everything in their powers to help offenders access vital services, including support for drug or alcohol problems, but they do not have sole responsibility for caring for them and their primary purpose is to protect the general public.

“Nonetheless, in light of the sharp rise in the number of deaths, we are conducting a review of the deaths of people under supervision to better understand the underlying causes."

The National Probation Service has a National Suicide Prevention Action Plan which seeks to reduce the number of self-inflicted deaths in the community.

The plain aims to raise awareness among staff around suicide prevention and to develop 'best practice' through work with stakeholders.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of charity Nacro - which helps to resettle ex-offenders in the community - said: “For the numbers of people on probation that take their own lives to almost double since 2014/15, once again shows that our current justice system simply isn’t working. 

"In many cases, people leaving prison or on community sentences are not receiving the support that they need to build a better, crime free life. 

"Many people in contact with the justice system have mental health concerns that are not always identified or treated, and all too often, we see that people leaving prison are often held back by homelessness, a lack of essential medication or health support, and do not have access to sufficient money to survive upon release.

“If we are to truly tackle this urgent issue, we need a relentless focus upon rehabilitation from the moment someone is sentenced, right through to resettlement within the community.”

Earlier this year, then Justice Secretary David Gauke announced plans to renationalise the supervision of offenders after their release from custody.

As a result, all offender supervision in the community will be carried out by the National Probation Service from Spring 2021.