2. Drug-related deaths in prisons in England and Wales, 2015-2020: an examination of key trends and issues for policy and practice
Since 2012, the rates of drug-related deaths in the UK have more than doubled and exceed other European countries. Parallel increases in drug-related deaths are also observed in prisons. Although some research has been conducted on drug-related deaths following release from prison, few studies have analysed those occurring in prisons.
In England and Wales, the Prison and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) conducts investigations into every death occurring in custody. This study analyses PPO fatal investigation reports from 2015- 2020 in the ‘other non-natural’ category focusing on those where substance use or involvement in substances was mentioned. A data record template was created to extract information from the PPO reports. Descriptive statistics about the deaths were generated using SPSS and qualitative analysis explored the circumstances surrounding deaths and key risk factors.
The results will report on the characteristics of those who died, the proximate circumstances and general contexts of drug-related deaths in prisons, analysing key factors such as age, sex, cause of death, substances involved, sentence length/recall, offence, mental health, cell occupancy, substance use history, and contact with services. The factors which contribute to, or help to prevent (risk and protective factors) drug-related deaths in prisons will be identified.
This study highlights the importance of the interaction between the substances used, the individual and the environment in explaining drug-related deaths in prisons. Implications for policy and practice relating to clinical and security issues will be outlined, as well as wider organisational and structural frameworks. Key questions for further research will be identified.