Campaigner calls for prison reform

A top prison reformist last night said the system that saw a suicidal care worker jailed because he started a fire in his house in a bid to kill himself was “grotesque”.

A top prison reformist last night said the system that saw a suicidal care worker jailed because he started a fire in his house in a bid to kill himself was “grotesque”.

Raymond Blowers hanged himself in his cell at Norwich prison four weeks after being handed an 18-month sentence for arson.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, was speaking after the inquest yesterday into the death of Mr Blowers, 50, who had suffered from mental health problems all his life and made his first suicide attempt when he was 15.

She said prison was the “last place” for those with mental health issues.

“This tragic death must raise questions about why we continue to imprison people who suffer from a mental illness rather than diverting them into the care and treatment they so badly need,” she said.

“It is unreasonable to expect prison staff after just eight weeks basic training to cope with someone who has been suicidal since childhood. Prison is not a hospital.”

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The death follows at least three court cases in the last two years in which senior Norfolk judge Peter Jacobs has criticised the lack of resources for mentally ill convicts who he has been forced to send to prison.

Yesterday's inquest in Norwich heard Mr Blowers, who had been remanded in custody at the prison on August 4, 2005 before being sentenced on December 18, had come off suicide watch six weeks before his death.

But two independent reports found that the decision had been “justifiable” and that Mr Blowers, of Victoria Lane, Fakenham, had been given a good level of care by prison staff who carried out regular reviews. His cell had also been visited 10 minutes before he was found by a prison officer.

He was prescribed anti-depressants and had been on and off suicide watch since he came into the prison, but a team review of his case found that while he suffered from depression he had no intention of actively taking his life at the time.

However an independent report carried out by Sheila Glen on behalf of the former Norwich PCT, recommended that a clinical analysis be carried out into Mr Blowers'

death in case anything could be learnt from it.

Prison staff have since carried out

all the recommendations of the


Mr Blower was found hanging in his cell on January 19, 2006 at about 7.30pm just after other prisoners were returning from a regular social evening that he had not wanted to attend.

He had earlier been to see the prison doctor about a pain in his shoulder and was deemed to be in good spirits. Ten minutes before he was found an officer was called to his cell to deal with an electricity cut and reported no problems with him then.

Staff were commended later for their efforts in trying to save Mr Blowers life.

Greater Norfolk coroner William Armstrong said: “Raymond Blowers clearly had a long-standing depressive condition which was no doubt associated with personal and social factors.

“Once in prison he was fully assessed. The potential for fatal self-harm was recognised and appropriate measures were taken to address that risk.

“It is clear Mr Blowers was given a high standard of care at Norwich prison.”

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