Police and prison staff

When a person dies in custody, it is important to be open with their family and friends, as wanting to know and understand what happened is part of grieving. 

The suicide of a family member or friend who is in prison can be particularly difficult, given the greater stigma and real or perceived difficulties in getting information. Evidence shows that how the family is first approached can affect the way they subsequently respond. The role of the prison family liaison officer is especially important in this, particularly in telling the family about the death in a sensitive way, giving as much information as possible about what has happened and indicating when further information will become available. In a situation where processes and procedures have been at fault in some way, family and friends reasonably want this responsibility to be acknowledged, an apology, where appropriate, and lessons to be learnt. 

Self-inflicted deaths in custody have an impact on staff too. They may have found the person dying or already dead, tried to resuscitate the person or assisted healthcare staff with first aid. 

Following a suicide in custody, staff have emphasised the importance of peer support. They may wish to take temporary ‘time out’ from face- to-face contact with prisoners, in preference to taking time off work where they may feel isolated from colleagues and a burden on their families. 

Staff also need to have up-to-date training in suicide awareness, first aid, and resuscitation, so that they are confident they did all that they could to save the person. 

Familiarising staff with inquest procedures is also important, as some staff have felt renewed anxiety when answering questions in the presence of the dead person’s family. 

Prisons in England and Wales have local, voluntary care teams to provide immediate supportive contact. A national staff care and welfare service provides confidential and independent professional services. 

Other prisoners may also feel shock and distress following a suicide and should be given support as soon as possible after the death. They may wish to talk to staff and should be given advice on further support if they need it. 

SSHP Wales is for anyone looking for training and development opportunities that can help them, their communities, or their workforces, to develop their awareness, understanding and skills in relation to the management and prevention of suicide and self harm.