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Suicide within the Criminal Justice System is an obvious problem and much publicised in the media, and a strong political talking point. There are numerous reasons why people may consider this course of action, and although these are clearly different on a person to person basis, there are some broad, investigable causes. Some of these are briefly detailed below, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.
Suicide rates in prisons, corrective facilities and secure facilities have risen by 500% between 1978 and 2003, although no comparison has been made between this and the suicide rates of the general population (Fazel, Benning & Danesh, 2005). These rises were examined in narrow age bands, and illuminated that the most drastic rise was amongst 15-17 year old males.
Another study identified three groups who were most likely to have a high incidence of suicide. These included young remand and young sentences, both of which overlap with the above findings. This study also found that those with life sentences share this high incidence of suicidal intentions and attempts (Cooper & Berwick, 2001). The link between life sentences and suicidal intentions has been brought up in other studies (Liebling, 1999)
The forcible suspension of the way people typically spend their time also forces people with the prison context to be more aware of the passage of time and confront their own personal identity also exacerbates the above issues, as well as being a factor on its own (Medlicott, 1999). This would be made worse by either a lack of interest in, or an actual physical lack, of activities and training programs within the prison to take their minds off of the passage of time. This may also have an effect of increasing personal isolation, as it would lessen the conversation topics to share, as well as opportunities to have said conversations.
The mundanity of prison life can also have an adverse effect on people, with a lack of novel experiences exacerbating the effect of the suspension of time (Liebling, 1999). It seems that it is easy to give into despair when there feels like there is no end in sight. This is seemingly backed up by an early study that found that people who were either anticipating, or had received, a prison sentence of 18+ months were the most likely to commit suicide (Topp, 1979)
Another study examined the effect of overcrowding in the United States, and found that compared to non-overcrowded prisons, these prisons caused a high rate of deprivation and had far higher levels of suicide and suicide attempts (Huey & McNulty, 2005). Although it is not as much of an issue in the United Kingdom as in the United States of America, the privatisation of prisons in the United Kingdom, as well as harsher penalties and politicians running for office with promises of “being tough on crime”, it may possibly be a major issue in the near future. This is made worse by a growing reliance on imprisonment as a punishment, paired with an unwillingness to invest in current prisons, or build new prisons.
Now that the causes of prison suicide have begun to be explored, the next step is investigating any preventative steps, especially as the suicide rate seems to be escalating at a rapid pace. Previous attempts have utilised identifying at risk individuals and then enlisting them in specialist training and guidance. This had the downside of being subjective in identifying individuals, and allowing anyone who was not immediately and obviously at risk to slip through the gaps. (Liebling, 2007). There is room for broad policy that effects everyone, thus allowing no one to miss out on preventative measures, as well as methods that do not necessarily require specialists. One such example is, that while dealing with depression within the prison system requires specialist work, this depression is made more difficult by feelings of loneliness, and this loneliness can be assisted by anyone, even without receiving specialist training (Brown & Day, 2008).
In conclusion, there are a variety of reasons why someone might consider suicide, and many of these are exacerbated within a prison environment, with its unique environment of isolation and monotony. Some of these are down to the very nature of the prison system itself, but these can be alleviated, by recognising the causes of suicide and working to diminish these. Some of these can even be done without specialist knowledge or intervention. Regardless of the cost, suicide in prison is on the rise and is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with. (925 Words)
Brown, S., & Day, A. (2008). The role of loneliness in prison suicide prevention and management. Journal of offender rehabilitation, 47(4), 433-449.
Cooper, C., & Berwick, S. (2001). Factors affecting psychological well-being of three groups of suicide-prone prisoners. Current Psychology, 20(2), 169-182.
Fazel, S., Benning, R., & Danesh, J. (2005). Suicides in male prisoners in England and Wales, 1978–2003. The Lancet, 366(9493), 1301-1302.
Huey, M. P., & McNulty, T. L. (2005). Institutional conditions and prison suicide: Conditional effects of deprivation and overcrowding. The Prison Journal, 85(4), 490-514.
Liebling, A. (1999). Prison suicide and prisoner coping. Crime and Justice, 26, 283-359.
Liebling, A. (2007). Prison suicide and its prevention. Handbook on prisons, 423-446.
Medlicott, D. (1999). Surviving in the time machine: Suicidal prisoners and the pains of prison time. Time & Society, 8(2-3), 211-230.
Topp, D. O. (1979). Suicide in prison. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 134(1), 24-27.
Intersectionality and Criminalisation
In my final blog entry I intend to build upon some of the entries seen previously from several contributors who have linked mental health and disability with other contributing factors such as gender and age. I intend to make use of work on intersectionality and draw comparisons between the work carried out on inequalities and gender by using similar principles in the context of inequalities within the criminal justice system and disability including mental health issues. It will offer a brief outline of intersectionality and apply it to issues faced by many who find themselves at the mercy of the criminal justice system. It will also look at the effects of government policy around austerity and the reduction of services available to those who are vulnerable and what seems to be the increasing welfarisation of the police service before using the criminalization thesis to explain how disabled people can become further embroiled in the criminal justice system. Furthermore, it will summarise its own content and offer an opinion on possible methods to reduce the inequalities that lead to disproportionate rates of those who are disabled or suffer from mental health issues within the criminal justice system.
Intersectionality is based around the theorization of multiple inequalities (Walby, Armstrong and Strid, 2012). Intersectionality can be explained as whilst one inequality may be an obvious contributing factor to a situation there may well be other inequalities that have led to the situation, it is the combination of inequalities that has a causal effect rather than just one inequality being singularly behind the situation. In the case of disability and mental health there are many well documented inequalities that are not only the product of the disability or mental health issue but can be exacerbated by factors beyond the individuals control such as greater financial inequality due to changes in the welfare system leading to reduced income or reduced support available to them (Matthews, 2014). A reduction in income could lead someone who could be considered vulnerable due to learning difficulties committing a crime as they are not able to afford things they may have previously enjoyed and not having the support systems in place to help guide them through the benefits system. It would seem that a combination of the inequality of disability along with a possible financial and service provision inequality could lead to an interaction with the criminal justice system which would support the theory of intersectionality (Walby, Armstrong and Strid, 2012).
Reductions in the budgets for social and health services has also led to what has been described as the welfarisation of the police service who estimate they spend between twenty and forty percent of their time dealing with mental health issues (Quinn, Laville and Duncan, 2016). A recent report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies has concluded that in some police forces in the United Kingdom police officers are being used as first responders to mental health incidents as budgets of the ambulance service have been cut leaving no ambulances available to respond. They have also stated that people who are mentally ill are still spending time in a police cell. This again is due to budget cuts in mental healthcare meaning there are no beds for people who are considered too vulnerable to be released (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies, 2017). This brings vulnerable people into contact with a criminal justice system whose raison d’etre is perceived by the public as dealing with crime which in turn can lead to labelling of someone who has committed no crime as criminal. Another effect of austerity and welfare cuts can be seen in what is commonly known as the bedroom tax. The spare room subsidy was introduced as part of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 by the coalition government (Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 2012). This has forced many disabled people to leave the homes they have lived in for many years due to a reduction in housing benefit payments have led to arrears in rent payments that can ultimately lead to eviction (Cooper, Gander and Bromwich, 2013). Many people who are subjected to the bedroom tax have moved into cheaper accommodation that is considered to be charging the correct rent for their situation and although this would be an expected outcome of the introduction of this policy, a mass migration away from areas with high rents has not occurred (Butler, 2014). Some tenants however have managed to find smaller and cheaper accommodation and one effect that may well be seen could be a form of ghettoization of the benefit claimants of whom two thirds class themselves as having some form of disability (Holehouse, 2014). Ghettoization according to Loic Wacquant is a form of advanced marginality employed by neo liberal governments as a form of crime control (Wacquant, 2001). He wrote his paper about attempts by the American government to control criminal activity amongst a black population, there are however striking similarities to the situation seen with the bedroom tax whereby a group of people suffering from multiple inequalities are forced to live in high density substandard housing in order for the authorities to be able to exercise control over them through oppression and stigmatisation (Wacquant, 2001).
This entry has attempted to draw similarities between work based around intersectionality by explaining that a combination of inequalities can lead to contact with the criminal justice system and that a disability is only one of the inequalities required for such contact. It has also sought to highlight that government policy can lead to further inequalities that, when combined with a disability can increase vulnerability of a disabled person and therefore the likelihood of contact with the criminal justice system. Perhaps a restoration of budgets to disability and mental health services could reduce the need for a welfarised police service who are often the first people someone in a mental health crisis comes into contact with. These changes would of course need a shift in policy by government in order to reduce inequalities. The upcoming general election may provide an opportunity for change although an increase in the budget for one area will have an effect elsewhere that may open up opportunities for new inequalities to surface.
Beck, U. and Beck-Gernsheim, E. (2002) Individualization. London: Sage Publications Ltd.
Butler, P. (2014) The Guardian: Bedroom tax bites as low-income tenants choose between heat and eat. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jul/15/bedroom-tax-hardship-dwp-study (Accessed: 14 May 2017).
Cooper, C., Gander, K. and Bromwich, K. (2013) The Independent: Tenants face eviction over controversial ‘bedroom tax’. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tenants-face-eviction-over-controversial-bedroom-tax-8633008.html (Accessed: 14 May 2017).
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies (2017) State of Policing : Overview. London: Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies.
Her Majesty’s Stationary Office (2012) Welfare Reform Act 2012. Available at: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/5/pdfs/ukpga_20120005_en.pdf (Accessed: 14 May 2017).
Holehouse, M. (2014) The Telegraph: IDS doubts bedroom tax disability figures. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/11032429/IDS-doubts-bedroom-tax-disability-figures.html (Accessed: 14 May 2017).
Matthews, K. (2014) ‘The Coalition, austerity and mental health’, Disability and Society, 30(3), pp.475-78.
Quinn, B., Laville, S. and Duncan, P. (2016) The Guardian: Mental health crisis takes huge and increasing share of police time. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jan/27/mental-health-crisis-huge-increasing-share-police-time-40 (Accessed: 14 May 2017).
Wacquant, L. (2001) ‘Deadly Symbiosis’, Punishment and Society, 3(1), pp.95-133.
Walby, S., Armstrong, J. and Strid, S. (2012) ‘Intersectionality: Multiple Inequalities in Social Theory’, Sociology, 46(2), pp.224-40.
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