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A Black Woman Who Took Her Own Life In Prison Wasn't Given The Mental Health Support She Needed

Critics said Sarah Reed's death was "a result of multi-agency failures to protect a woman in crisis".

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On 11 January 2016 Holloway prison staff attempted CPR on 33-year-old Sarah Reed during the early hours of the morning after she was found unresponsive with a ligature round her neck. She was pronounced dead shortly after.

Her death led to a number of protests and vigils and helped build momentum for the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK.

BuzzFeed News understands Reed had been remanded to Holloway, which has since closed, over an alleged assault that took place in 2015 while she was a sectioned patient at a mental health unit. She had been awaiting trial.

Reed had been diagnosed with a number of serious mental ill-health concerns – schizophrenia, emotional unstable personality disorder, and an eating disorder – following the death of her 6-month-old baby in 2003.

After a two-week inquest into her death, the jury concluded on Thursday that it was self-inflicted. The jury also found that Reed did not receive adequate treatment for mental ill-health, and there was a failure by prison psychiatrists to manage Reed's medication and complete a "fitness to plead" medical report in a timely manner.

Following the verdict, Deborah Coles, director of the charity Inquest, said in a statement that Reed was a "woman in torment", and that her death was "a result of multi-agency failures to protect a woman in crisis".

"Instead of providing her with adequate support, the prison treated her mental ill-health as a discipline, control, and containment issue,” she said.

"Serious mental health problems are endemic in women’s prisons, with deaths last year at an all-time high. They continue because of the failure of the governments to act. The legacy of Sarah's death and the inhumane and degrading treatment she was subjected to must result in an end to the use of prison for women."

Coles continued: "The state’s responsibility for these deaths goes beyond the prison walls and extends to the failure to implement the Corston review, tackle sentencing policy, and invest in alternatives to custody and specialist mental health services for women.”

In 2012 Reed was the victim of police brutality. A Met police officer punched and pinned her to the ground after she was accused of shoplifting at a clothes store in central London.

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CCTV footage showed PC James Kiddie pushing Reed, grabbing her by the hair, and punching her while she was on the floor. Two years later Kiddie was found guilty of common assault and dismissed without notice.

Fiona Rutherford is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Fiona Rutherford at fiona.rutherford@buzzfeed.com.

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