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Prisoner dies in custody at HMP Pentonville

10:35 28 November 2016

A 23-year-old prisoner has died at HMP Pentonville. Picture: Polly Hancock

A 23-year-old prisoner has died at HMP Pentonville. Picture: Polly Hancock

Polly Hancock

A prisoner has died in custody in a suspected suicide at HMP Pentonville.

How many people have died at Pentonville this year?

There have been six deaths in custody at HMP Pentonville in 2016.

- A 29-year-old killed himself on January 19.*

- A 49-year-old died of natural causes on March 24.*

- A 54-year-old took his own life on June 26.*

- A 55-year-old died of natural causes on August 13.*

- Jamal Mahmoud, 21, was killed in a stabbing at Pentonville on October 18.

- Vilhemas Borketas, 23, was found dead on November 21. His death is not being treated as suspicious.

* SOURCE: The Howard League for Penal Reform

Vilhemas Borketas, 23, was found hanged at the jail in Caledonian Road on Monday last week.

The death is the sixth at Pentonville this year.

Police are not treating it as suspicious.

A prison service spokesman said: “As with all deaths in custody there will be an independent investigation by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.”

The death comes as the Howard League for Penal Reform today warned that a prisoner takes their own life every day in the UK, saying the number of suicides in jails has reached “epidemic proportions”.

The charity said it has been notified of 102 people killing themselves behind bars this year.

With five weeks left until the end of 2016, the death toll is already the highest in a calendar year since current recording practices began in 1978, according to the charity.

The revelation will spark fresh questions about the state of prisons in England and Wales, including HMP Pentonville, following claims the system is “in meltdown”.

A joint report published by the charity and the Centre for Mental Health said the rise in prison suicides has coincided with cuts to prison staffing and budgets, along with an increase in the number of people in prison resulting in overcrowding.

Howard League chief executive Frances Crook said: “The number of people dying by suicide in prison has reached epidemic proportions.

“No one should be so desperate while in the care of the state that they take their own life and yet every three days a family is told that a loved one has died behind bars.

“Cutting staff and prison budgets while allowing the number of people behind bars to grow unchecked has created a toxic mix of violence, death and human misery.”

Earlier this month, thousands of prison officers - including more than 60 at Pentonville - stopped work in protest amid soaring levels of violence and self-harm in prisons, forcing ministers to seek an emergency injunction to order them back to work.

It came after a string of high-profile incidents including the fatal stabbing of Pentonville inmate Jamal Mahmoud, 21, on the prison’s G wing on October 18.

Two men have been charged with murder and are awaiting trial.

Two Pentonville prisoners, James Whitlock and Matthew Baker, also escaped from G wing on November 7. They have since been re-captured by police.

Justice Secretary Liz Truss has unveiled a wide-ranging blueprint for prison reform, including an additional 2,500 officers.

A government spokeswoman said: “Mental health in custody is taken extremely seriously and there are a range of measures already in place to help support prisoners.

“Providing the right intervention and treatment is vital to improving the outcomes for people who are suffering and all prisons have established procedures in place to identify, manage and support people with mental health issues.

“But we recognise that more can be done. That is why have invested in specialist mental health training for prison officers, allocated more funding for prison safety and have launched a suicide and self-harm reduction project to address the increase in self-inflicted deaths and self-harm in our prisons.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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