Prisoner found dead in cell days after giving birth

Michelle Barnes, 33, from Cumbria, was serving a two-year sentence at Low Newton Prison in Durham for drugs offences when she was found dead in December.

Michelle Barnes, 33, from Cumbria, was serving a two-year sentence at Low Newton Prison in Durham for drugs offences when she was found dead in December.

A prisoner was found dead in her cell with a ligature around her neck days after she gave birth, an inquest has heard.

Michelle Barnes, 33, from Cumbria, was serving a two-year sentence at Low Newton Prison in Durham for drugs offences when she was found dead in December.

Durham Coroner Andrew Tweddle told the jury at Crook Civic Centre that she had a history of mental health problems and self-harm, and that she found out she was pregnant when she was in prison. She had been jailed in June last year.

Mr Tweddle said Cumbria County Council was involved in the inquest because care proceedings were under way.

The coroner said: "The council had concerns about Michelle as a mum."

He added: "It would appear she was found with a ligature around her neck in her cell."

The most senior governor at the prison, Alan Richer, said that Low Newton had no mother and baby unit.

The jail had room for 350 prisoners and there were 274 inmates at the time of her death, so it was not overcrowded in December, he said.

She was living in a Psychologically Informed Planned Environment (Pipe) unit - a discrete area of the prison for 40 inmates aimed at helping them overcome issues with the help of specially trained staff.

Mr Richer said 85% of women who come into Low Newton have misused drugs and their offending was related to drug and alcohol abuse.

Between one third and a quarter of women prisoners self-harm, he said. His prison experiences 20 to 35 self-harm incidents a month, or around 330 a year.

Mr Richer said self-harming appeared to be a "coping mechanism" for some of the women prisoners.

He said there were around 200 babies born to inmates every year in the UK. There are only five prisons which have mother and baby units, he said, after one unit closed due to flooding.

Most Low Newton inmates who give birth are involved in care proceedings, he said.

The inquest continues.