Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Call for more support for prisoners after suicide

CONCERNS have been raised over the support available to prisoners at HMP Huntercombe in Nuffield after an inmate hanged himself in his cell.

Darius Lasinskas, 26, took his own life after learning that the Home Office wanted him to see out his four-and-a-half-year entence in his native Lithuania.

His was the first death in custody during the prison’s 70-year history.

Now Huntercombe’s independent monitoring board, which consists of volunteers from within the community, says communication about the process must improve in order to reduce the emotional impact.

In a report published this week, the board also warns that the legal aid offered in such circumstances is “woefully inadequate”.

Mr Lasinskas, who moved to Britain in 2010, was convicted of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm in 2015.

When he was arrested he stabbed himself in the chest but recovered and showed no further signs of distress.

He was transferred to Huntercombe, which houses exclusively male foreign nationals, in June that year. The following month he learned of the Home Office’s plans, which meant he would earn a criminal record in his home country.

Mr Lasinskas shared his worries about this with the prison’s mental health team and appealed, saying he would fear for his safety in a Lithuanian prison.

His appeal was rejected in January 2016 and the following month a Lithuanian court said he would be jailed until July this year.

However, he was found dead on the morning of April 28 last year.

Staff said he had been withdrawn in the days beforehand but had spent time chatting with friends the previous evening.

An investigation by the Prisons and Probations Ombudsman said nothing in his behaviour had raised concerns so staff could not reasonably have predicted his actions.

However, the board says a growing number of foreign prisoners are being repatriated mid-sentence so care should be taken to avoid future incidents.

It says communication is improving but the prison is not resourced to effectively provide legal aid or help with resettlement. It only funds visits from the charity Migrant Help for four hours a week, meaning most prisoners cannot access help, and provides information about job opportunities in only five countries.

It says prisoners are sometimes returned with no help at all. In one instance, another Lithuanian man was flown back in winter without appropriate clothing.

The board’s report says: “There is a general lack of resources for providing resettlement support.

“The board is aware of the magnitude of the task… however, that must not be allowed to excuse the inadequacy of facility.

“It is a major area of unfairness between how UK and foreign national prisoners are treated.”

John Evans, the board’s chairman, said: “While it cannot be conclusively proven that the prisoner took his own life because he was told he was to be repatriated… we cannot ignore that use of repatriation is increasing, albeit in relatively small numbers at Huntercombe, and the impact it has on prisoners.

“This is an area the board will continue to monitor closely.”

Despite this, the board says the prison is “well run” with good co-operation between staff while inmates are “relatively content” and there are few incidents of violence. It is also receiving fewer complaints from prisoners.

It says the prison’s mental healthcare staff work well together and handle “difficult” patients with care.

Following Mr Lasinskas’ death, officers now conduct a risk assessment on every prisoner who receives immigration documents. If he is thought to be at risk of suicide or self-harm, he may be placed under closer observation by the prison management team.

Henley MP John Howell said: “I am pleased that steps have already been taken to deal with the issues the report raises.

“I have taken a great interest in the performance of the prison. I have discussed with the governor how it operates and seen for myself some of the issues.

“I congratulate the governor and staff on running a good prison and applaud the system of mentors who are themselves prisoners, some of whom I have met.”

⚫ The monitoring board is seeking new members who are available to visit the prison three or four times per month. Anyone living within 30 miles may apply at www.imb.org.uk or call 0203 334 3265.

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