Bars go out the window to stop prison suicides

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 May, 2011, 12:00am


Jail administrators will start a trial of cell windows without bars at Stanley Prison this year in an effort to stop prisoners hanging themselves.

It follows a coroner's recommendations after five jail suicides in eight months - four of them at Stanley. Correctional Services Commissioner Sin Yat-kin said yesterday the department was studying the recommendations, which included measures to eliminate inmate suicides.

'The department is studying the design of cell windows and we are considering some new products that inmates would not be able to use to hang themselves,' Sin said.

Unlike more modern institutions the 74-year-old maximum-security prison at Stanley still has bars on cell windows.

It holds convicted and remand prisoners in solitary cells.

Officers familiar with Stanley Prison's operations said the department had started work on a trial to change all the windows in the prison to a new type of 'security window', which had no bars but still provided sufficient lighting and ventilation.

'The department will start to change about 30 cell windows within three months to test their functions before fully changing about a thousand windows in the prison,' an officer said.

'The windows would also have no protruding parts that inmates could use to hang themselves.'

But Sin said the department had been unable to find an alternative material for the inmates' bed sheets.

'While two of the cases in the inquest involved inmates who tore strips off bed sheets to hang themselves, some used the whole sheet,' he said. Some suicidal inmates also used shirts or trousers, he said.

The chairman of the Correctional Services Officers' Association, Chiu Chi-keung, said the department had introduced measures such as stamping the four corners of bed sheets to helps officers detect torn sheets, and the new security window in cells could help stop inmate suicides.

Correctional Services figures show there were 90 suicide attempts in prisons last year. Four attempts were successful.

The coroner on Monday found that negligence of prison officers and red tape prevented timely delivery of medical aid to inmates who hanged themselves in Stanley Prison.

The court's recommendations included improving the training of frontline staff in detecting suicides, and ensuring inmates were monitored when staff changed shift.

The commissioner said the department would review prison staffing regularly and study the reasons behind inmates' suicides.