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Rise in deaths of offenders on probation since reforms

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The number of people dying while on probation in England and Wales has risen by almost a third in three years, analysis of official figures shows.

Campaign groups said there had been “institutional indifference” towards offenders released from custody.

A social worker said her job had become “a treadmill of bureaucracy”.

The Ministry of Justice said a “great deal of caution was needed when trying to draw conclusions” from its figures.

The BBC’s Shared Data Unit analysed Ministry of Justice data from 2015-16 to 2017-18.

It found:

  • Last year 966 deaths of ex-prisoners were recorded, compared to 752 in 2015-16
  • About one in three of those deaths were self-inflicted
  • In 2014-15, there were 558 deaths, but that woas before 40,000 extra offenders were brought under supervision following government reforms

‘I’d like to see offenders treated as whole people’

Caspar Capel was 43 when he took his own life while a resident at an Approved Premises, formerly known as bail hostels.

He had borderline personality disorder and was troubled with depression and alcoholism for most of his adult life, contributing to many suicide attempts.

Weeks before his death, Mr Capel had spent several months on remand waiting for sentencing after exposing himself to a train conductor while drunk.

His mother Sue, said he had “no opportunities” for rehabilitation whilst on remand and kept a journal detailing how he wanted to kill himself.

She said: “I’d like to see offenders treated as whole people with a combination of problems which have led to the offending, and for the offence to be seen in the context of that person’s history and mental health problems.

“Caspar wasn’t offending because he wanted to gain anything from it, he wasn’t aware he was offending, I’m sure. But he was very sad and angry – not caused by the drink, but exacerbated by it.”

A review by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman concluded there was nothing staff could have done to prevent Mr Capel’s death, but acknowledged his complex history of mental health problems and alcohol misuse.

Private sector reforms

The arrangements for managing offenders were overhauled in 2014, with the probation service split in two.

A new state body, the National Probation Service (NPS), which has eight divisions, was set up to supervise high-risk offenders, with 21 privately-run Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) supervising low and medium-risk offenders.

In March, the chief inspector of probation said the new system was “irredeemably flawed”.

Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said homelessness, cuts to the voluntary sector and the spread of drugs such as Spice may have contributed to the rise in deaths.

She added: “Whereas before we had a successful publicly-run probation service with qualified and trained staff who saw their mission as befriending and turning lives around, we now have a fragmented service with a tick-box culture where some people have not even met face-to-face.”

One offender manager, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “When you lose a service user it has a massive emotional impact on you.

“Officers, when they know someone is quite vulnerable, will go above and beyond to try and mitigate some of that risk, but then there’s frustration felt when services are in a similar boat to us and can’t commit the time some of these service users need.”

Scotland and Northern Ireland

In Scotland, the work of the probation service is devolved to local authorities’ social work departments, which are not required to record a cause of death for offenders under their care.

Figures for 27 out of 32 councils that responded to a BBC Freedom of Information request, show there were 556 recorded deaths across Scottish councils since 2014-15.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The death of any individual, no matter what the circumstances, while on release under supervision or licence, is regrettable, and our sympathies go to their family and friends.”

Similar records from the Probation Board for Northern Ireland began in November 2016 and show a rise in deaths from 14 to 21 since then.

The Ministry of Justice said it was investing £22m to support offenders upon release.

A spokesman said: “Our probation reforms were a positive change for public safety, extending supervision and support to approximately 40,000 extra offenders each year – nearly 20% more than in 2014.

“This significant increase in volume, along with the rising age of offenders and improved recording practices, means a great deal of caution is needed when trying to draw conclusions from this data.”

A programme to improve access to health services for vulnerable offenders with mental health, alcohol and substance abuse issues has also been launched.

Dr Jake Phillips, senior criminology lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, said national records of deaths under probation had improved since he first began researching the subject nearly a decade ago.

He said: “There’s a fairly strong argument for saying we know a lot about why people kill themselves in prison, for example, because there’s been learning taking place for the last 20 years or so, from a range of angles. Under probation supervision, we just don’t know that.”

Rebecca Roberts, head of policy at Inquest, said: “There’s been complete institutional indifference towards the lives and deaths of people following release from custody and a total lack of visibility and investigation.

“Deaths have been rising year after year and we need more scrutiny on why this is, and what can be done to prevent these deaths in future.”

More about this story

The Shared Data Unit makes data journalism available to news organisations across the media industry, as part of a partnership between the BBC and the News Media Association. This piece of content was produced by a local newspaper journalist working alongside BBC staff.

For more information on methodology, click here. For the full dataset, click here. Read more about the Local News Partnerships here.

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Brighton meningitis amputee 'can even drive car'

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A man who almost died from meningitis has revealed how he began to look forward to having his limbs amputated.

Mike Davies, 60, from Brighton, spent 70 days in intensive care with meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia.

During this time, he said he knew his hands and feet were “dead” and he would recover better without them.

Now he says he is in a positive place and “can even hold a pint of beer”.

With the help of prosthetic limbs, Mr Davies can drive a specially-adapted car and said he was living life to the full.

“My message to anyone who has amputations would be not to give up,” he said.

The illness struck on Christmas Eve in 2017 when he began to get “colder and colder”.

He said: “Climbing into bed didn’t help. I looked like a ghost with blue lips.”

His family insisted he went to Royal Sussex County Hospital.

In the early hours of Christmas Day, his wife Julie and son Rory were taken to a room and told he was unlikely to survive.

‘A lucky man’

“When they held my hand, I could not feel it. My hands and feet were dying,” he said.

During 10 weeks in hospital “on the edge of survival”, he knew his limbs had to go.

“I began to look forward to having my hands and feet amputated

“I was on a lot of medication and I was very accepting that they needed to go for me to make a recovery” he said.

He spent two and a half months at Queen Mary’s University Hospital, Roehampton, learning to walk on prosthetic legs.

Since then, he has “walked three miles”, can feed himself, using cutlery strapped to his arms, and can “even hold a pint of beer”.

“I feel in quite a positive place in my mind about the challenges I still have to overcome.

“Support from other people has been key. I am a lucky man,” he said.

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Kai Gasson jailed for Crawley street stabbing murder

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A teenager who stabbed a man to death in a street has been jailed for life.

Kai Gasson, 17, had denied the murder of Arnold Potter in Crawley but was convicted and ordered to serve at least 15 years.

Reporting restrictions were lifted at Lewes Crown Court so unemployed Gasson, who lived in Crawley, could be named.

Mr Potter, 24, died in Watson Close, Maidenbower, on 15 November after he was wounded in the torso with a lock knife.

After the hearing, Det Ch Insp Andy Richardson said Gasson “rightly” faced a minimum of 15 years behind bars after the jury rejected his claim that he acted in self-defence after a row about drugs.

“Had Gasson not been in possession of a knife that day, he would not have stabbed anyone and he would not now be facing a sentence,” he said.

“We must continue to educate people – particularly young people – that carrying offensive weapons in public is a serious offence which ruins lives.”

Gasson was also found guilty of possessing a knife and admitted possessing cocaine with intent to supply.

After the court case, a family tribute issued through police said Mr Potter was a caring, kind-hearted man who had been loved by many.

The family said: “Please educate your children about knife crime, as it impacts every member of your family.

“Life goes on, but life will never be the same again for us.”

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Child held near cliff edge at Seven Sisters prompts warning

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The National Trust has warned people to “act sensibly” after pictures emerged of a man holding a child inches from an unstable cliff edge.

The pair were pictured on Monday at Seven Sisters near Eastbourne, East Sussex.

In 2017, 50,000 tonnes of the cliff crumbled and fell to the beach below.

The following day a 23-year-old South Korean tourist fell to her death when she jumped in the air for a picture and lost her footing on the edge.

Others were also seen near the edge and the Trust spokeswoman said: “It isn’t safe to stand or sit on the cliff edge.

“The cliffs are unstable in places and there are undercuts in the chalk, which people may be unaware of from the top.

“We advise visitors to act sensibly.”

There are permanent signs in place warning people of the danger.

MP for Lewes Maria Caulfield said the warm weather made an “ideal time to visit the coast”. However, she said it was “disappointing and concerning” to see people on the edge or “dangling children on the edge”.

“We know how dangerous those cliff edges are. We know people have been injured, and we’ve had tragic loss of life in the past.”

Ms Caulfield said she will speak to local councils on how to tackle the safety issues in future.

Previously, some have criticised the signage for not standing out, and there have been calls for signs in foreign languages as tourism from the Far East increases.

Ms Caulfield said: “It’s a difficult balance… if you put too much fencing or signage you destroy the beauty of the place.

“But it’s clear, despite the efforts of the local councils, the signs that are there are not enough to deter people from going close to the cliff edge.”

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