Winchester prison had the highest regional figure for deaths in custody in 2015, according to data released by the Ministry of Justice.
Only Woodhill Prison had more suicides than Winchester, as the city-based jail had more than 15 per cent of the deaths in the South East.
The news comes shortly after Stephen Gough, known as the Naked Rambler, was released from HMP Winchester.
In an interview with Eastleigh News, he said people can feel worthless in prison.
“Often people won’t ask for support, they just feel worthless and no good”.
“The suicide rate is a reflection of how people feel about themselves. Often if there is support available, people won’t want it.”
In the South East alone 18 people took their lives, out of 45 deaths in total.
Winchester, a category ‘B’ male prison, had the second highest number of deaths in the area.
It was reported seven inmates died last year, four of them by suicide.
The Victorian jail is one of 21 prisons in the region.
Frances Crook, the leader of The Howard League for Penal Reform, deemed these figures
“Shameful, shocking and an example of how terrible the prison system is.”
“We should be really ashamed that we have such a terrible prison system.
“We have got to expect that people in Winchester prison are properly supported. The prison is a grossly overcrowded, under-resourced facility.”
The data shows an increase in incidents from 2014 to 2015. Last year almost 23,300 self-harm incidents were recorded, up over 5,000 from the previous year.
‘The prison system is feeding the crime problem’
The data revealed self-inflicted cases across England and Wales, but Crook believes the South to be an area of great concern.
“It’s very typical of local prisons, in the South in particular. There are huge problems there with recruiting and retaining staff. Winchester is a busy prison, there are lots of people coming in and out and it doesn’t have the staff.
“The prison system is feeding the crime problem, it’s not solving it. People come out of prison damaged. They come out having experienced extreme distress.
“We are asking people to work in the system, we’re expecting people to come out and behave properly, after they’ve experienced being incarcerated in basically what is a dungeon.
“We expect a miracle to happen after – that they come out and magically get jobs, their families would have stayed together, and they will be responsible and law abiding citizens. Well, it simply isn’t happening.”
Nationally, in the 12 months to December 2015 there were:
* 257 deaths in prison custody
* 89 apparent self-inflicted deaths
* 146 deaths due to natural causes
* 146 deaths due to natural causes;
* 8 apparent homicides, up from 3 from last year;
* 14 other deaths, 7 of which are yet to be classified.
A prison service spokesperson said:
“We recognise overcrowding is an issue. That is why we are replacing ageing and ineffective prisons with new facilities fit for the modern world. We are going to build a prison estate which helps prisoners turn away from crime.”
The Ministry of Justice also responded to Crook’s comments on HMP Winchester, saying:
“Crowding levels across the estate and at Winchester prison have remained broadly stable since 2010. Winchester prison does not operate above its operational capacity, which ensures the provision of safe and decent accommodation and the operation of a suitable regime. A prison’s regime is structured to cope with the total numbers of prisoners within it.
‘Crowding’ does not mean that prisoners lack sufficient space or do not have access to basic requirements.Winchester prison is fully staffed in conjunction with Prison Guidelines.”
Eastleigh News also asked the MOJ if they could throw any light on a ‘Riot’ that was reported at Winchester in December and had resulted in 12 inmates being moved away.
The spokesman was unable to say what the cause of the disturbance was but denied that it was in any way related to the suicides.