In Brief

Why do so many more prisoners die in custody?

Police Commissions says 23 people died in English and Welsh prisons last year, the highest for a decade

The number of people dying in police custody in England and Wales has soared to its highest level in a decade, new figures from the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) reveal.

Twenty-three people died last year, an increase of more than 64% on 2016. Of these, the police watchdog said 17 had been subjected to the use of force or restraint before they died, but that did not mean the use of force was a factor in their deaths.

Of the 17 who were restrained, nine were white and eight were black, “which will fuel existing concerns that racial stereotyping is playing a role in deaths that occur in custody across England and Wales”, says The Independent.

The figures are open to interpretation, but the IOPC said the vast majority of those who died had prior problems involving mental health, drugs or alcohol.

The spike in deaths “will be of concern to ministers”, says The Guardian, especially after Theresa May made safety in custody a priority during her time as home secretary. A government report published last year called for sweeping reforms and said the system treated families badly.

IOPC director general Michael Lockwood, said while each death was “tragic”, “what is clear is that many present a complex and challenging set of factors, with links to drugs and alcohol and mental health concerns being very prevalent among those who have died”.

Deborah Coles, the director of Inquest, which helps bereaved families, lays the blame elsewhere.

“These figures, the highest for over a decade, are an indictment of the failing systems of investigation, learning and accountability which follow police related deaths” she said.

“Too many highly vulnerable people with mental ill health and addictions are ending up in the criminal justice system. The solution does not lie within policing. Many of these preventable deaths illustrate the impact of austerity and the historic underfunding of health and community services”.

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