Date of release: Friday, November 8, 2013

The launch of the Deaths in Custody project takes place at the Greenwich Campus on 13 NovemberA project aiming to reduce the number of deaths in custody has been launched by the University of Greenwich's School of Law.

Each year, an average of about 540 deaths occur in England and Wales across the 'custodial sector'. This figure takes into account not only deaths in prisons but also those in immigration centres, secure children's homes and in police custody, and includes patients who are detained under the Mental Health Act.

Darrick Jolliffe, the university's Professor for Criminology, who is leading the research, says: "All deaths in custody are tragic and preventable. While the number has fallen slightly in recent years – and some may even consider the figure of 540 a success, given the size of the custodial sector – it is our aim to reduce this number even further. It's a subject society shouldn't run away from."

In addition to the official figures, it's also been claimed that there are a large number of 'near misses' in custody, with approximately 400 cases a year where death was thought to be likely if action had not been taken.

The 18-month research programme, jointly run by the university and the Runnymede Trust, the UK's leading independent race equality think-tank, has been commissioned by the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody (IAP).

Researchers will be addressing important, and previously overlooked, issues in relation to deaths in custody. These include improving the sharing of information about vulnerable people in custody, and ensuring that they receive the right help and support. Experts will aim to find out how effective current procedures are in protecting individuals who are identified as being at the risk of suicide or self-harm.

One area the research team has started to explore is the link between mental illness and deaths in custody – something of an unknown area. Professor Jolliffe explains: "The role of mental illness can appear clear cut if someone with major depression commits suicide in prison. But mental illness could also contribute to a death in custody in other ways. Since those affected are less likely to disclose issues about their physical health, for example, someone might end up dying in custody of so-called natural causes which could have been prevented."

The project is being launched at the university on Wednesday 13 November, in an event that will include talks by Lord Toby Harris, the Chair of the IAP, and by Professor Jolliffe. Staff, students and the public are welcome. To register interest, email or call 0208 331 8603.

A specialist on the psychology of crime and the development of criminal behaviour, Professor Jolliffe has previously carried out studies for the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the National Police Improvement Agency.

To find out more about studying Criminology or Law at the University of Greenwich:

Story by Public Relations