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New documents reveal Ministry of Justice allowed Carillion staff to work in prisons without suicide prevention training, against its own policy

Newly-published responses from Carillion and the HM Prison and Probation Service reveal government contracts ignored national policy, allowing untrained Carillion staff to work with ‘at-risk’ prisoners

Newly-published documents relating to the death of a 27-year-old man in HMP Winchester reveal that HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) failed to include in its contracts the requirement for all prisoner-facing Carillion staff to undertake suicide and self-harm prevention training, against Ministry of Justice (MoJ) guidance.

The inquest into the death of Sean Plumstead concluded last October and the jury found the prison’s failure to instigate appropriate self-harm support measures contributed to his death, citing widespread insufficient and inadequate training and a lack of accountability in the training of Carillion staff.

Approximately two days prior to being found hanging, Sean had asked one of the Carillion staff members supervising his work in the prison’s clothing exchange the best way to commit suicide, but the staff member failed to record or report this, passing it off as ‘banter’.

The supervisor had no previous experience of this type of work, having been recruited initially to work as a fork-lift truck driver at the prison. He told the inquest that had he been trained at the time of Sean’s death he would have recorded Sean’s comments, which would have triggered the appropriate support measures. The supervisor finally completed the training just before Sean’s inquest following his transfer to a role within the prison service.

Following the inquest, Graeme Short, the Senior Coroner for Central Hampshire, issued a Prevention of Future Deaths report to both HMPPS and Carillion highlighting, among other concerns, the lack of compulsory suicide and self-harm prevention training being given to prisoner-facing staff.

In their responses, just published by the Chief Coroner, it has been revealed that HMPPS made no requirement in any of Carillion’s contracts to undertake suicide and self-harm prevention training, in direct contravention of its own national guidance.

Carillion’s response said:

“…having carefully reviewed our contracts with HMPPS…there is in fact no contractual requirement upon Carillion and its staff to undergo SASH training, either as a business requirement, key deliverable or at all…Accordingly, prior to the inquest touching the death of Mr Plumstead, Carillion was unaware of the requirement for its staff to undergo SASH (suicide and self-harm) training.”

The response from Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of HMPPS, dated 8 January 2018, admitted it had failed to ensure its contracts were in line with national policy, it said:

“I accept that the requirement for prisoner-facing staff to undertake suicide and self-harm prevention training was not specifically brought to the attention of Carillion when their contract began, and I can confirm that a Service Manager’s Instruction will be issued imminently to ensure that Carillion, and our other contractors, are made aware of the requirement and their contractual obligation to comply with it. Both HMPPS and Carillion are committed to ensuring that all relevant staff are trained as soon as possible.”

The ‘Safer Custody’ Prison Service Instruction (64/2011) states that all staff in contact with prisoners should be trained to open an Assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork (ACCT) document – a procedure used across the prison service to assist in understanding the triggers for suicide or self-harm and help provide support. In Sean Plumstead’s inquest, the jury concluded that staff’s failure to do so contributed to his death.

The full extent of the failures are documented in an in-depth investigation, published today, on the Corporate Watch news and research website, which also highlights Michael Spurr’s confession that the prison service did not hold records of training provided to outsourced staff from their employers. The article’s author, Richard Whittell, says: “So the government, in contravention of its own national policy, contracted a company to provide staff to prisons that by their own admission was incapable of training them appropriately. The government then did nothing to either check that the staff were trained or to train them itself.”

Solicitor Clair Hilder, a senior associate in the civil liberties team at London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen who represented Mr Plumstead’s family at the inquest said: “That there was no provision for such training of Carillion staff shows the shocking lack of priority given to self-harm and suicide prevention in prisons despite the latest safety in custody statistics showing record highs of self-harm incidents. The prison service appears to have been clueless as to what roles ‘facility management’ staff filled within prisons and what, if any, training they had.

“Even after the inquest into Sean’s death and the Coroner raising concern, the prison service’s definition of ‘prisoner-facing staff’ seems confused. ‘Facilities management’ staff are clearly filling such roles. Sean had more meaningful contact on a daily basis with Carillion staff at HMP Winchester than officers working on his wing.

“It’s crucial that all staff in prisons understand when and how they should open ACCT documents to protect prisoners. Carillion is not the only private provider whose staff work in prisons and this raises serious questions about the contracts with other suppliers across the entire prison service. Someone needs to take responsibility to ensure all staff are trained properly.”

For further information, please contact:
Kerry Jack at Black Letter Communications
020 3567 1208

Notes for Editors

Circumstances surrounding the death of Sean Plumstead

Father of two, Sean, was found hanging in his cell by his cell mate during the evening of 15 September 2016. The cell’s emergency bell cell had been pressed at 18.39 and staff took over 10 minutes to respond; the prison admitted it was a failing that this had not been answered within the required five minutes. Sean was transferred to hospital and subsequently died on 18 September, less than a month before he was due to be released.

Sean, who was described by prison staff as a model prisoner, worked in the prison’s Clothing Exchange Store under the supervision of two staff members. Approximately, two days prior to his hanging, Sean had asked one of the staff members what the best way to commit suicide was, but the staff member failed to record or report this, passing it off as ‘banter’. He also described Sean as having been unusually distracted at work and making mistakes on 15 September which was unlike him.

The inquest heard that neither of the staff members supervising Sean’s work were prison officers, they were provided by the private facilities management company, Carillon. Neither staff member had received ACCT training. One of these members of staff explained when giving evidence that, as of October 2017, he had still not attended an ACCT training course. The other staff member, who received the training just two months ago, said that he would have started ACCT procedures for Sean had he been trained, which would have triggered support being provided to Sean.

Sean’s death, and the issues it highlights at HMP Winchester, are not isolated. During its July 2016 inspection, the Chief Inspector of Prisons noted that HMP Winchester had failed to implement its 2014 recommendation that emergency cell bells should be answered promptly. Further, HMP Winchester had already received a series of PFD reports ordering them to address concerns about the mandatory ACCT training and the speed of its delivery to staff following the inquests of other prisoners who had died following being found hanging there. The reports were issued in May 2016, following the death of Sheldon Woodford in March 2015, in October 2016, following the death of Haydn Burton in July 2015, and in April 2017, following the death of Daryl Hargrave in July 2015.

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