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'Major concern' over suicide rate at overcrowded Yorkshire prison

HMP Leeds (Photo:          Tony Johnson)
HMP Leeds (Photo: Tony Johnson)

HM Inspectorate of Prisons said staff must do more to “address this major concern” and improve the wellbeing of inmates at HMP Leeds.

In a report, inspectors said seven people have taken their own lives over the last 13 months and “unemployment and the long periods spent locked up during the weekend were common factors in many of these deaths”.

They said HMP Leeds, which holds around 1,110 inmates, is seen as “a high-risk prison” and “the scale of the problem had stretched the resources at the establishment".

HMP Leeds in Armley (Photo: Simon Hulme)
HMP Leeds in Armley (Photo: Simon Hulme)

The Prisons & Probation Ombudsman has investigated each of these deaths and raised concerns about prison officers’ ability to assess risk.

Its latest report stated that sex offender Robert Taylor, 52, was found hanged just five days after he arrived at the prison in Armley, even though he was known to be struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons said around 80 per cent of the inmates are living in overcrowded cells that were originally designed for one, but staff are “unable to reduce crowding because of pressure for prisoner spaces nationally”.

Inspectors found around 200 prisoners are not working and they “receive an impoverished regime of as little as 45 minutes out of cell a day”.

Inmates who work part time are allowed out of their cells for around four hours a day and those working full time get up to seven hours.

Staff are also still keeping inmates in Covid-19 bubbles which “needlessly limited the useful time out of cell for all prisoners”, inspectors added.

“While education periods had been extended and unemployment was now lower, the daily routine had not substantially changed since the pandemic,” the report stated.

“For those that did access activity, however, leaders in education, skills and work had increased the breadth of the curriculum, improved the quality of learning in prison workshops and developed careers information, advice and guidance.

"Attendance among those allocated to work had also greatly improved.”

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “Our hardworking staff are driving real improvement at HMP Leeds, including in education and support on release so prisoners have the tools to turn their backs on crime.

“We are also improving safety, so staff are better equipped to identify and support prisoners at risk of self-harm.”