This project explores the important yet neglected important social issue of the high mortality rate that exists amongst people who have spent time in prison or who are under probation supervision in the community. Our main aim of the project is to raise awareness of this issue and to influence policy and practice around reducing the number of people who die and encouraging greater scrutiny when someone dies.
Dying after prison and under probation supervision
Our analysis has shown that, on average, people in this group are around 8 times more likely to die than the general population although this figure masks some even more worrying differences. For example, women leaving prison are around 40 times more likely to die than women in the same age group in the general population. There are many reasons for the high mortality rate amongst this group such as a high prevalence of mental ill health, poverty, high levels of drug and alcohol use and high levels of marginalisation. What is not yet known is exactly which of these factors contribute to most to these people dying.
Issues around high mortality rate
Our research – which has included interviews with probation staff, prison officers, coroners and police staff – has shown that issues around communication, high workloads and a silo mentality in the criminal justice have led to some of these problems. We’ve also shown that the data collected by the government is not fit for purpose when it comes to really understanding why the death rate amongst this group of people is so high.
Improving data collection and its understanding
We are currently working on ways to improve the ways in which the government collects and understands data in this area. We see considerable scope for greater scrutiny of these deaths – not because probation officers are to blame, but because there appears to be systemic issues which, at best, are leading to these deaths being ignored or, at worst, contributing to this high death rate amongst an already vulnerable group.