A woman took her own life after a prison support group stirred up memories about previous abuse, a report has revealed.
Deborah Clayton died at Askham Grange Prison near York on 19 August 2020. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman has now published their findings into her death.
Ms Clayton attended a support group designed to give prisoners strategies for coping with past trauma. On 1 July 2020 she told officers that this had stirred up difficult memories for her about historic abuse and she stopped going to the group.
She said she was suffering nightmares about the abuse, but said she did not want mental health support and also refused substance misuse support.
On 12 August, Ms Clayton was told that a former partner was seriously ill. Two days later, she learned that her step-sister had died.
She told staff that she was fine and had no thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
Four days later, prison staff started suicide and self-harm prevention procedures – known as ACCT – after Ms Clayton told an officer that she was having suicidal thoughts. Staff checked her at least once per hour.
On 19 August, the 46-year-old was found dead in her cell. Staff tried to revive her but were unsuccessful.
It was the first time in prison for Ms Clayton, who was serving a ten-year sentence for a violent offence.
In her report, Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Sue McAllister said: “We are satisfied that Ms Clayton was offered appropriate support when she said that the Healing Trauma group had stirred up some difficult memories, and that staff appropriately opened ACCT procedures after the death of her step-sister.
“Despite her assurances that she was not at risk of suicide or self-harm, staff left the protective measures in place.”
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But Ms McAllister said she had concerns that
- prison officers did not tell healthcare staff that Ms Clayton’s step-sister had died
- there was no structure in place to assess or support women attending the prisoner-led Healing Trauma group.
She recommended that “The Director for the Women’s Estate should satisfy himself that the prisoner led Healing Trauma group is appropriate to be delivered in prisons and, if it is, that groups are properly monitored and supported.”
You can read the full report on the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman website.