Probation chiefs face calls for an urgent review after suicide among recently-released prisoners rocketed by 21% last year.
New Ministry of Justice statistics paint an “extremely worrying picture”, with ex-inmates who took their own life climbing from 97 in 2015/16 to 117 in 2016/17.
Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon said an explosion of drugs, violence and deteriorating conditions inside UK jails were damaging offenders’ mental health.
He also claimed a slew of cutbacks meant scores of ex-offenders left jail on probation with no suitable housing and threadbare mental health support.
Burgon said: “All too often, following drastic budget and staff cuts, too many offenders not only fail to get the treatment they need while in prison, but they often leave prison with greater problems than when they entered.
“The government needs to launch an urgent review into the number of self-inflicted deaths of those on post-release supervision. This review should examine all aspects of the probation system including why self-inflicted deaths are the main cause of death amongst those managed by the private probation companies.”
The new MoJ statistics showed the number of suicides among those on probation as a whole - including both those serving community sentences and jail terms - fell by 9%.
Burgon added: “It is welcome that the number of self-inflicted deaths has fallen overall but extremely worrying that it continues to raise among those who have served prison sentences.”
Probation services are split between the National Probation Service (NPS), which manages more serious offenders, and Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), which supervise and rehabilitate medium to low risk offenders.
The 21 CRCs have been mired in criticism since they took over from publicly-run probation trusts in 2015.
A National Audit Office (NAO) report earlier this year, meanwhile, revealed a shocking rise in suicide inside jails.
The number of self-inflicted deaths was 120 in 2016 - an all-time high and almost double that of 2012. Around 70% of that number were known to have an existing mental health condition.
The NAO report also found that up to 90% of prisoners were thought to have a mental health condition and that a shocking 28% of women and 12% of men were self-harming.
Over the same period, the volume of psychoactive drugs found in prisons also peaked. Drugs seizures went up from around 2,500 in 2015 to more than 10,500 in 2016.
Seizures of Spice went from 408 in 2015 to a staggering 3,500 in 2016, and stood at around 1,600 for the first six months of 2017.
There has also been a 20% increase in violence inside jails.
Meanwhile, questions about the performance of CRCs are intensifying. The number of offenders on probation charged with murder, manslaughter, rape and other serious violent or sexual crimes has risen by more than 25% since the service was privatised.
A joint report of the prisons and probation inspectorates in June also gave a damning verdict on CRCs’ Through the Gate (TTG) programme.
It found 10% of long-term prisoners leave jail homeless and just two out of the 98 prisoners surveyed as part of the report were found accommodation before they were released.
The government has also handed CRCs an additional £37m amid fears some firms could pull out contracts due to cost.
Dame Glenys Stacey, the Chief Inspector of Probation told the Justice Select Committee earlier this year that probation was in an “unsettling position” and CRC staff were overwhelmed because of “half-baked” reforms to the system.
Referring to the new MoJ figures, Burgon said: “All of these deaths are concerning and where government action can reduce their number then all possible steps should be taken.
“There appears to be a particularly worrying picture amongst those on post-release supervision.
“It’s essential that those leaving prison are given the healthcare, housing and access to other key services that they need if they are to rebuild their lives and be less likely to reoffend.
“Although other agencies also have responsibility for offenders’ lives when they leave prison, the government must ensure that the probation services are doing everything possible to prevent offender’s deaths.
“Given the death toll continues to rise the government should urgently set out plans to improve the coordination between probation services and mental health, addiction and other agencies to reduce the number of deaths.”
The Government said reforms meant more prisoners were now being monitore
A Government spokesperson said: “As the latest figures show, overall self-inflicted deaths among offenders in the community have fallen by nine per cent compared with the previous year.
“Probation services are now supporting an additional 40,000 offenders each year through our reform, and probation officers work hand in hand with other agencies – including local authorities and health services, and in higher risk cases, the Police – to help ensure offenders with mental health issues have the right level of support on release.”