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04 October 2010

Coroner says mentally ill prisoner’s death was ‘avoidable’

An inquest jury ruled today that the death of Michael Bailey a 23 year old inmate who was found hanged in his cell in the segregation unit of HMP Rye Hill in March 2005 could have been avoided.

Assistant deputy coroner, Tom Osborne, said Mr Bailey’s death was avoidable and branded as “shameful” the fact that he had not been transferred to hospital despite mental health problems.

The jury ruled:

At 12.05 on March 24 2005 in cell 21 on the segregation unit at HMP Rye Hill, Michael Bailey killed himself whilst suffering from a mental illness.

It said there was a failure to carry out a full or adequate mental health assessment while Bailey was in the unit and prison officers, healthcare staff, and doctors knew or should have known he was under a “real and immediate risk of self-harm or suicide”.

The jury said:

There was a failure on the part of all staff to take responsibility for ensuring Michael Bailey’s safety.

The prison staff, healthcare staff and doctors did not do all that could be reasonably expected of them to prevent Michael Bailey hanging himself.

Mr Osborne said he planned to write to the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health about the lack of availability of secure beds in the prison and the health service.

He said:

I believe that in this day and age it is shameful that there is not the ability to transfer somebody who is in urgent need of medical attention to an appropriate hospital.

Commenting on the coroner’s verdict following Michael Bailey‘s tragic death at Rye Hill prison, Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

To prevent further deaths government should act immediately to ensure that people who are mentally ill receive the treatment they need rather than condemning them to a tragic death in a bleak institution.

A report by the Prison Reform Trust, drawn from information provided by 57 Independent Monitoring Boards, revealed that many people held in prison were in the wrong place Earlier intervention, well-resourced mental health and social care in the community, residential care or, in some cases, in-patient or secure psychiatric provision could all have saved vulnerable people from the rigours of imprisonment. Many of the Boards expressed concern that in prison symptoms of mental illness are often treated as a disciplinary rather than a medical or treatment issue, and mentally ill prisoners are confined in segregation units.