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Latest death of Pentonville prisoner sparks warning of ‘epidemic of misery’

Pentonville inmate found hanged amid claims of ‘unimaginable levels of distress’

12 May, 2017 — By Koos Couvée

Frances Crook: ‘Suicides are the tip of the iceberg’

A LEADING campaigner for prisons reform has hit out at the “epidemic of misery” in jails after a 31-year-old man became the latest inmate to hang himself at Pentonville Prison.

Amir Faizi, 31, was found hanged by a bedsheet in the early hours of April 27. The Tribune understands Mr Faizi had been on suicide watch in a specialist unit for vulnerable inmates at the prison in Caledonian Road following an earlier attempt to take his own life.

He was pronounced dead at the scene. Police attended and concluded his death was not suspicious.

Mr Faizi was the ninth prisoner to die within Pentonville’s walls since the beginning of 2016. Last year, seven men died at the prison – the highest number of deaths there since 2000. It is the second self-inflicted death at the prison this year.

An immigration detain­ee who would probably have been deported after serving his sentence, Mr Faizi had been jailed indefinitely. The Tribune understands he had only recently been moved to Pentonville.

Frances Crook, chief executive of Howard League for Penal Reform, said that chronic overcrowding and understaffing at Pentonville has made the prison unsafe.

“There is an epidemic of misery in prisons,” she said. “The trouble is that a lot of people who have died are recognised to be vulnerable but they’re still locked up by themselves.

“At night there are not many officers on duty. Maybe five staff in the prison for the whole night.

Pentonville Prison

“Inmates are locked up for 12, 14 or sometimes 16 hours and there will only be patrol staff. They can’t go in and speak to prisoners who are in distress.”

Prison officer numbers have fallen at Pentonville from 300 to around 200 in the past four years, and at one point were as low as 168 for a prison population of more than 1,300.

Ms Crook said that, due to problems of attracting staff, the prison was increasingly using “detach­ed duty staff” from elsewhere in the country who are living in hotels away from their families.

“Pentonville is one of the most overcrowded prisons in the country,” she added. “It’s also understaffed and under-resourced. Suicides are the tip of the iceberg. Underneath there are levels of distress that are unimaginable.”

The tragedy comes two months after an inquest found that the death of inmate John Williams, 54, was caused by “numerous failings, from the time he came under care until the moment of his death”.

Mr Williams, a Catholic, was found hanged in his cell after being refused permission to go to the prison church in June last year.

Senior coroner Mary Hassell wrote a prevention of future deaths report following the inquest.

It was the latest in a series of similar reports she has written over the past two years where prison staff, employed by the government, and care staff, from private company Care UK, have been found wanting in relation to inmates who have killed themselves.

Pentonville was judged unfit for the 21st century by ex-chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick last year.

The Ministry of Justice said it could not comment on the latest death as it was still trying to make contact with Mr Faizi’s family.

He has not yet been formally identified.

Earlier this year, Justice Secretary Liz Truss announced a national recruitment drive to add 2,500 officers, as well as annual pay rises for staff, including at Pentonville, of between £3,000 and £5,000 to increase staffing levels.

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