A blog about the Suicide in/as Politics research project. Funded by the Leverhulme Trust.
Suicide prisons and the police

Suicide prisons and the police

This post is by Alex Oaten, the Lincoln based Research Associate on the Suicide in/as Politics project.  You can find out more about all the team on our People page!

Our research project has now moved into a new and exciting phase. We are taking our research findings out into the community and giving the public a chance to express their thoughts on a range of issues on suicide and suicide prevention. We will be hosting public workshops throughout the summer, with more to follow in the autumn.

This summer we will be running 2 workshop series. My colleague Hazel Marzetti will be running workshops for LGBT+ people, who are a group identified within policies and political debates as at heightened risk of suicide and in need of targeted suicide prevention.

And I will be running workshops on the topic of suicide, prisons and the police, which anyone can attend. So why did we decide to run a workshop series on suicide, prisons and the police?


Suicide in Prison

What happens in prison is often hidden, both physically and emotionally, from the public. We often don’t want to talk about prisons and prisoners. However, one thing that cannot be hidden is that there is a self-harm and suicide problem within our prisons. Last year, there were at least 85 self-inflicted deaths in prisons in England and Wales. Whilst it is accepted that prisoners are vulnerable to suicide and prisoners are categorised as high-risk within suicide prevention policies, their actual voices are seldom heard. Whilst politicians have made speeches about the suicide problem in our prisons, it often doesn’t cut through to the public. Prison is hidden. In our workshops we want to explore the tragic problem of suicide within prisons and to create a space for us to think about how things could be different.


Suicide and the police

Within many of the suicide prevention policies that we analysed the police were seen as playing an important role in responding to and interacting with vulnerable people who may be at risk of attempting suicide, self-harming or who are having a mental health crisis. The police are often first to respond and the way that vulnerable people are treated by the police can have a profound impact on outcomes. Some suicide prevention policies noted positive interventions that the police had taken, but some politicians have questioned if the police are the right people to respond to vulnerable individuals who may be harming themselves or at a crisis point. Deaths whilst in police custody is also an issue of public and political concern. In our workshops we will have chance to look at what politicians and suicide prevention policies say about the police and their role in preventing suicide, and we can think about the challenges that exist when the police are used to respond to vulnerable people who need help.


Important issues to talk about

As England’s suicide prevention policy accepts: “people in contact with criminal justice services often present with complex mental health, substance misuse and physical health problems”. And so, the ways in which our prison system and police service deals with the people they encounter has a significant impact on the lives, and deaths, of our fellow citizens. What happens in prisons and the ways in which the police respond to vulnerable people are vital considerations for suicide prevention strategies.

These workshops will give you the opportunity to think about what happens in prison, why prisoners are vulnerable to suicide and how the police respond to suicide attempts, self-harm and mental health crises in the community. You will have chance to explore different perspectives and to express your views on this difficult but important topic.

We hope to see you in the workshops!


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