Jury identified multi agency failures in the care of Jack Portland
3 February 2017
Jack Portland died on 27 December 2015 following a struggle with mental health problems and drug use. He was described by his family as a lively, outgoing and athletic person who began to experiment with drugs around the age of 14 and later developed an addiction.
The jury heard that he had deliberately shop lifted in desperation, in the belief that he could get clean in prison. Instead he was exposed to widespread availability of the drug Spice and developed psychotic symptoms for the first time. His parents' concerns about their son went unanswered.
Failings were found by the jury in the discharge and resettlement process at HMP Woodhill. Aftercare is essential for vulnerable prisoners returning to the community. HMP Woodhill has been repeatedly criticised by Coroners and the Prison and Probation Ombudsman for shortcomings in its safety procedures and protection for its most vulnerable prisoners. In 2016 HMP Woodhill recorded the highest number and highest rate of self inflicted deaths across the entire prison estate.
The jury also found four categories of failure at the Whiteleaf Centre where Jack was a patient at the time of his death. They found failings in risk assessment process, communication with Jack's family, leave systems and how they respond to patients absent without leave (awol).
Jack died while on 1 hour unescorted community leave and his absence went unnoticed for an hour and half after he was due to return. the Police were not called for over two hours. His family were never informed he was missing.
Jack Portland's family made the following statement:
"The family are grateful for the professional services of the coroner's office and the process they have experienced in the past two weeks, and over the past year in preparation for the inquest of their son, Jack Portland.
"Losing a loved one is very difficult, losing a child in tragic circumstances is a life time sentence in regret; knowing the life experiences we all enjoy have been cut short for him, wishing things were different. One of the last things jack 'wrote' was 'life's short, don't be lazy', good advice son and i hope we have done you justice.
"We value the opportunity to participate in the inquest process and the resulting findings of the jury.
"The culmination of the inquest process and the recognition of jack as a person, exhibiting and experiencing a constellation of health concerns, demonstrated by the jury’s finding that there were failings in his care, is some relief to us.
“However we are saddened that the experience of people with impaired mental health, coupled with addiction, is continuing to be misunderstood, a stigma applied and their care mismanaged.
“It’s evident that society still has a long way to go in treating everyone with equal concern. The family will continue to try and effect a positive change for people in need of support and understanding.
“The family would like to thank the legal team and INQUEST for all their hard work and support”
Deborah Coles, director at INQUEST said:
“This case has exposed multi agency failures in the care of a vulnerable young man who clearly deserved better care and support. Why on earth was Jack sent to prison in the first place? It should be pretty obvious to everyone that these short prison terms simply do not work. The fact that someone in Jack’s condition who was under suicide and self harm management until the morning of his release and had vulnerabilities as a drug user, was let out of the prison gates with no aftercare or support in place is shameful. These deaths will continue until those in conflict with the law are not regarded as just a number but human beings with a potential to change their lives round and with friends and families who really care for them“.
INQUEST has been working with the family of Jack Portland since April 2016. The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Merry Varney and Benjamin Burrows from Leigh Day Solicitors and barrister Caoilfhionn Gallagher from Doughty Street Chambers.
‘You have clearly made yourselves a force to be reckoned with, a powerful instrument for good. In the process you have not only achieved real change in an aspect of our common life which would have commanded little attention or esteem were it not for your efforts, but you have at the same time offered enormous support to those bereaved people who long for a clear verdict on the death in custody of someone who means a great deal to them.’
– Dr Peter Selby, President of the National Council for Independent Monitoring Boards