The sister of a prison inmate who took his own life just 48 hours after being remanded in HMP Bristol says she “has no faith in the system”. Andrew Rawlins, a father-of-one from Clevedon, had struggled with mental health problems from an early age. His sister Katrina said he should have been cared for in a mental health unit rather than remanded in custody.
Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust said it was to review the way inmates are monitored. Mr Rawlins was on bail over an alleged assault when he was arrested for walking naked to a supermarket and sent to prison. His sister had tried and failed to have him sectioned, and said of the prison service: “They don’t help people who are ill really.”
Anxiety and distress
The 26-year-old was one of five prison inmates who killed themselves at HMP Bristol last year – the second highest number of any prison in England and Wales. A record number of inmates took their own lives in prisons in England and Wales in 2016, the Ministry of Justice recorded.
It said there were 119 self-inflicted deaths – 29 more than the previous year and the highest number since records began in 1978. The Howard League for Penal Reform said prison suicides had reached “epidemic proportions”. Mr Rawlins was living with his sister and her partner Tom Turner in May last year when the couple became alarmed at his behaviour.
Ms Rawlins told BBC Inside Out West: “He started sending threatening messages to me, Tom and a few other family members. Just sort of lashing out at us all the time really.” She was also concerned because he was using cannabis and had threatened to kill himself several times.
The couple called a mental health helpline and were told the quickest way to get him sectioned was to call the police. “Nothing whatsoever was being done for him,” said Mr Turner.
“We were being passed backwards and forwards from the police and the mental health service saying ‘well if he’s using cannabis we’re not going to go near him’.” Then one morning in July, the couple said he smoked “a large amount” of the drug before undressing and walking naked to a local supermarket. After failing to obtain any help from mental health services, the couple called the police and he was arrested.
Mr Turner said: “We didn’t want him arrested but we had to get something done and that was our only option. “They say to trust the system, but I’m sorry to say after all this I have zero respect for the way things are working with the mental health side of things.”
The arrest put Mr Rawlins in breach of bail conditions and he was remanded in custody at HMP Bristol. Within 48 hours he had hanged himself. The inquest into his death found he had taken his own life whilst suffering extreme anxiety and distress. Ms Rawlins said: “I have no faith in the system. People who are mentally ill shouldn’t be in prison, they should be in hospital.”
In another high-profile case, Callum Smith, 27, from Cheltenham was found hanged in his cell at HMP Bristol in March 2016. He had a history of mental illness and was “paranoid and delusional” when he was remanded after threatening to burn down his mother’s house.
An inquest found his suicide was contributed to by a number of inadequacies and failings by the prison service while he was in custody. Mental health services in prisons across the west region are provided by the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust. The trust’s Dr Tim Williams said: “Any person that dies as a result of a mental illness is a real tragedy for us.
“We must absolutely look at ourselves, and if there are failings that we need to identify, we need to find them and we need to address them very quickly.” A prison service spokesperson confirmed it launched an inquiry into deaths in custody last year and has implemented a new suicide and self-harm reduction initiative.