'Failures' after release from police custody 'contributing to suicides'
Alleged "failures" in the care of police suspects and prisoners when they are released from custody is potentially contributing to hundreds of suicides, an investigation has suggested.
Some 400 people arrested by police killed themselves shortly after being released from custody in England and Wales during the last seven years, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report.
The human rights watchdog conducted its review after being told of "gaps" in knowledge between agencies about those who died shortly after leaving prison or police detention.
The report found one-third (32%) of those suicide victims had been held on suspicion of sexual offences, while one-in-five (21%) had been arrested over violence.
David Isaac, EHRC chairman, said: "When the state detains people, it also has a very high level of responsibility to ensure they are safely rehabilitated back into their communities, particularly those who may be vulnerable.
"Our report reveals a fractured state of post-detention care that is potentially leading to hundreds of deaths.
"The Government and justice agencies must take seriously their duty of care to detainees and address some of the very basic mistakes we have identified, to provide proper support to people who have done their time."
The EHRC has now recommended greater training be given to custody officers to identify vulnerable suspects who may be more susceptible to self-harming, while the practice of dealing with the physically disabled or mentally ill is described as "poor" in places.
It has urged the Government to consider transferring responsibility for healthcare in police stations to the NHS, and said issuing those released from custody with the contact numbers for agencies such as the Samaritans would be a "small step forward".
In conclusion, the report stated there were "significant failures in communication in relation to the need for further support from drug support agencies for those leaving prison", as well as communication problems between the police and mental health agencies.
It added: "It is clear that there is a need for better training and support for police, prison and probation staff, equipping them to discern mental health issues and vulnerability whether this be in relation to risk of suicide or in relation to the need for ongoing support post-custody."
The report - based on data provided by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) - showed there were 60 apparent suicides shortly after leaving detention during the year 2015-16. This is down from 69 the previous year, and 68 the 12 months before that.
The Home Office said that while the figures showed a slight fall in the last year, every death in or following police custody "represents a failure and has the potential to dramatically undermine the relationship between the police and the communities they serve".
A Home Office spokeswoman said: "We welcome the Equality and Human Rights Commission's report into this important issue.
"Every death in or following police custody represents a failure and has the potential to dramatically undermine the relationship between the police and the communities they serve.
"Over recent years police forces have worked closely with NHS England to improve the quality and provision of custody health services and build better local partnerships.
"While the number of deaths has fallen, we are not complacent - which is why we launched an independent review in 2015 to identify areas for improvement. The review has consulted with the ECHR and we will consider all of the findings in detail when the report is published."