The publication in March of the Equality and Human Rights Commission report on deaths in detention raised some serious issues, highlighting that hundreds of individuals are dying while in detention across the UK. The report found that since 2014, 225 people have died of non-natural causes while being detained in prisons, psychiatric hospitals and police cells. Many of these individuals suffered from mental health conditions.
The report blamed ‘an ongoing culture of secrecy’, ‘poor access to specialist mental health services’ and ‘a lack of high quality independent investigations’ for the number of deaths. Despite this, the Commission did recognise that improvements have taken place in recent years, in particular noting that there has been a reduction in the number of individuals being held in police cells as a ‘place of safety’ and a decline in deaths occurring in psychiatric hospitals.
The report includes a brief section on restraint and two of the recommendations address this issue. Part of Recommendation 2 states that ‘we recommend that the IAP (Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody) principles for safer restraint are fully implemented in the three settings (prisons, psychiatric hospitals and police cells). Restraint should only be used when all other options to keep detainees and others (including staff) safe have been exhausted.’ Recommendation 3 calls for the use of restraint to be recorded across all detention settings and for this data to be made available to the public.
The report also included an official response from the relevant Government departments. The Department of Health stated that “‘Positive and Proactive Care’ (DH, April 2014) aims to develop a culture across health and social care where physical interventions (restraint) are only ever used as a last resort when all other alternatives have been attempted and only then for the shortest possible time.”