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3 December 2014

Sixth form students grill Grayling

Lily Green, Huddersfield Socialist Party

During Tory Justice Minister Chris Grayling's flying visit to Greenhead College in Huddersfield on 14 November, sixth form Law and Politics students put him on the spot on a number of issues.

Grayling only gave us information he wanted us to hear and we had no opportunity to come back with debate. He lost uncomfortable questions in a fog of his own repetitive rhetoric.

Grayling had recently apologised for listening to MPs' phone calls from prisoners, so I asked when he was planning to apologise to the mothers of those who died in prison since he had been in office.

Grayling replied. "I would say to any mother that I am really sorry about the suicides in prison, I don't like it to happen, I don't want it to happen and I don't know why it's happening. There seems no pattern to the suicides except that there's a lot of mental health problems in prisons".

He did not seem concerned that prison is a totally inappropriate environment for those with mental health problems although he said he wanted to "develop more specialist centres equipped to deal with mental health problems."

He said: "We have a system in place in police stations to divert people with mental health problems into the NHS rather than the criminal justice system."

No explanation

Yet this still does not explain Britain's staggering amount of mentally ill people detained in prison, some of them ironically put there for their own safety rather than for committing any crime.

Linda Davidson's 21 year old son Steven, hanged himself in HMP Glen Parva after being sent there 'for his own safety' following an attempt to cut his throat. He had serious mental health problems.

Grayling said that the majority of deaths in prison are of natural causes due to an older prison population. But this whitewashed over the disgraceful increase in non-natural deaths in prisons since he's been in post. He made vague assurances to students he was making every effort to prevent prisoner deaths.

Grayling spent the whole session squirming out of questions he didn't want to answer. I asked why he denied there was a crisis in prisons when there's a catalogue of problems: a rise in assaults, prisoner self-harm, staff shortages, serious concerted acts of indiscipline etc. None of these questions would he coherently answer.

Then I asked a general question, which he definitely didn't want to answer! I said given the dominance of Etonians in Parliament would you say that class war is over and the ruling class has won?