There has been a significant increase in the number of prisoners who have killed themselves in jails in England and Wales, according to new figures from the Prison Service.
So far this year, there have been 50 inmate suicides, compared with 35 in the first half of last year.
The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, said that the sharp rise was connected to prison overcrowding.
The prison population hit a record of 81,040 in June, before dropping by 1,500 earlier this month due to the Government’s early release scheme.
Ms Owers said the overcrowding crisis had seen prisoners housed in police and courthouse cells where they do not have access to the support offered in proper prisons.
“Inevitably, while prisons are operating under the pressures they are, staff are under stress, prisoners are under stress, and that means the most vulnerable won’t always be able to get the support they need,” said Ms Owers.
Out of the 50 inmates to have killed themselves to date this year, 17 had been on remand awaiting sentencing and six were women, according to the Prison Reform Trust.
The Prison Reform Trust says the effects of overcrowding are being felt most acutely in women’s prisons and during the first few days of custody.
A spokesman said: “Women’s prisons are being close and reopened as men’s. The female inmates are being ripped away from areas they know well and moved around the country.
“And we know from study after study that one of the real pressure points where people are most likely to be distraught, self-harm, or try to commit suicide is in the first few days of custody and that’s the period that has been most disrupted by overcrowding.”
Research conducted by the BMA suggests that around 70% of sentenced prisoners in the UK have one or more mental disorders, while 7% of men and 14% of women prisoners have a psychotic disorders – 14 and 23 times respectively the rate of the general population.