What should happen after the death of a probationer? Learning from suicide investigations in prison

AuthorJake Phillips
Published date01 March 2020
Date01 March 2020
Subject MatterComment
PRB899994 65..70
The Journal of Community and Criminal Justice
Probation Journal
What should happen
2020, Vol. 67(1) 65–70
ª The Author(s) 2020
after the death
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0264550519899994
of a probationer?
Learning from suicide
investigations in prison
Jake Phillips
Sheffield Hallam University, UK
In this comment piece, I explore the relevance of Tomczak’s (2019) book Prison
Suicide: What Happens Afterwards for those of us working and researching in the
field of probation. I argue that many of the findings from Tomczak’s research are
relevant when thinking about how to enhance accountability and knowledge around
the deaths of people under probation supervision.
probation, deaths on probation, accountability, investigations, lesson, learning
This comment piece uses Phillipa Tomczak’s (2019) recent book Prison Suicide:
What Happens Afterwards to consider the issue of self-inflicted deaths among
people under probation supervision. Although the book is focused on suicides in
prison, I argue that it has a great deal of relevance for our understanding of suicides
among people on probation and what should be done after a suicide of someone on
the caseload. I begin with an overview of the book, its underpinning research and
overarching argument and then reflect on how we can apply Tomczak’s findings to
the probation context. This commentary is based on my own research in the area of
deaths after prison and under probation supervision in which we have argued that
Corresponding Author:
Jake Phillips, Department of Law and Criminology, Sheffield Hal am University, Heart of the Campus,
Collegiate Crescent, Sheffield, South Yorkshire S10 2BQ, UK.
Email: jake.phillips@shu.ac.uk

Probation Journal 67(1)
these deaths are neglected, especially when compared to prison deaths (Phillips
et al., 2019b). We have also highlighted high rates of self-inflicted deaths among
people on probation. People on probation are 8.67 times more likely to die by
suicide than people in the general population and 1.42 times more likely to die by
suicide than people in prison (Phillips et al., 2018). While acknowledging the fact
that deaths in prison are different to deaths in the community, there are some
important lessons from prison for those of us working and researching this topic in
the context of probation.
The book begins with an overview what we already know about suicides in
prison. It provides an overview of the reasons for suicide – taking on both individual
and structural factors – and explores what is done to prevent suicide. Many of the
points in here will be helpful for probation practitioners in terms of increasing
knowledge and awareness of suicide and its causes. The chapter also touches on
the consequences of suicide for prisoners, staff and bereaved families something
which has received very little attention in probation research. The remaining
chapters are based on interviews with experts in the field which the author combines
with a case study approach to a series of suicides that occurred at HMP Woodhill
and analysis of Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) reports...

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