Suicide training of DCS staff, assessment of detained juveniles lacking, says INDECOM

Suicide training of DCS staff, assessment of detained juveniles lacking, says INDECOM

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, May 30, 2019

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THE Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has acknowledged that since the death in custody of 15-year-old Vanessa Wint in 2012, the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) has taken steps to implement the commission’s recommendations, but says there are two lingering areas of concern.

In its second quarterly report for 2018 (April to June) titled, “ Suicide in Custody: Vanessa Wint Revisited”, which was tabled in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, INDECOM said the DCS isn’t doing enough to train staff on the subject of self-harm and suicide, nor is it assessing locked up juveniles frequently and consistently enough.

On November 21, 2012, Vanessa Wint, a ward at Horizon Adult Remand Centre committed suicide, leading to public concern. The incident became the subject of a wider enquiry into the care and treatment of juvenile detainees across the country.

The death was investigated by INDECOM and the Office of the Children’s Advocate and in 2016 a coroner’s inquest found that Wint’s suicide was “contributed to by the neglect of Horizon Remand Centre in failing to ensure that an adequate suicide watch was put in place and properly implemented when she was locked down in her cell at approximately 6 pm on the 21st day of November 2012”.

“From the information garnered on our visits to the juvenile institutions, it is evident that there is awareness around the issue of dealing with juveniles who self-harm. However, the frequency of the training varies. In some institutions, staff report that the topic is often raised during briefings and in some, staff only recall one training during their tenure,” INDECOM stated in the quarterly report.

The commission says that for training to be effective it must be repeated with more frequency and staff must be reminded how to proceed in the event that a ward attempts to self-harm.

“DCS needs to make specific training in adolescent care and behaviour a staple at Carl Rattray Staff College, and needs more frequent in-service courses of dealing with juveniles who are at risk of self-harm and who exhibit suicidal ideations,” the report said.

Furthermore, INDECOM pointed out that while the initial intake assessment and needs assessment done by the DCS are laudable it was not apparent that these steps occur with great frequency.

“The intake screening cannot be the only time a ward is assessed. Follow-up screenings should be done at varying intervals within the juvenile’s confinement period. Juveniles who are identified during these intervals as likely to self-harm should be properly treated outside of the confined settings of the institution,” INDECOM insists.

According to the Commission, at the time of its second quarterly report there were 466 correctional officers with responsibility for an average of 270 wards. Also, it said that since 2012 there have been 62 suicide attempts and two incidents of suicide of wards who were in the care of DCS. The first was in 2013 and occurred prior to the release of its recommendations after the death of Vanessa Wint.

“The circumstances surrounding this incident bore similar features with Vanessa’s death,” the report noted.

The matter was referred to the special coroner. However, in the second incident, which occurred in 2015, INDECOM said it was apparent that the DCS had made changes in the way staff responded to the scene.

Meanwhile, the commission noted that since Wint’s death and following its 2013 recommendations, the DCS has produced a Standard Operational Procedure for Suicide and Self-Harm booklet, Standard Operational Procedures for Suicide Monitoring Room, and a Training Manual for Suicide and Self-Harm.

INDECOM says that according to the standard operational procedure regarding self-harm and suicide prevention among inmates and wards, which it was told is available to all correctional staff, the department aims to reduce the incidence by: identifying vulnerable inmates/wards, establishing a crisis assessment/intervention team, identifying various forms of intervention programmes available to be applied, and identifying and addressing the training needs of staff members.

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