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Deaf Prisoner Put In Prison Without Hearing Aids

January 24, 2020

On 7 February 2018, 32-year-old Tyrone Givans was remanded in custody, charged with possession of a knife and breach of restraining order. A court custody officer noted his history of self-harm and completed a suicide and self-harm warning form. The person escort record (PER), which went with him to Pentonville prison, noted that Givans had a history of self-harm, misused alcohol and cannabis, and had depression. Givans was profoundly deaf and did not have his hearing aids with him.

At Pentonville, he told an officer he had no thoughts of suicide or self-harm, and, though this differed from the information on his PER, the officer took him at his word and he was not placed on an at-risk register. Neither was he referred to the prison’s equality officer, who had expertise in working with deaf prisoners.

The next morning, he saw a prison doctor, who noted Givans’ deafness, but did not refer him for new hearing aids or try to get hold of his old ones.

On 21 February, Givans’ mother, Angela Augustin, visited him and brought one of his hearing aids with her; she had been unable to obtain both. Givans told her he did not feel safe on the wing he was on. He said his mattress had been slashed and he was worried because he could not hear anyone entering his cell. His mother reported her son’s fears to staff, who later said they had tried to move him, but there was no space in the overcrowded jail.

On 26 February, Givans’ cellmate returned to the cell from attending court with an officer to find that Givans had killed himself. His was the eighth self-inflicted death at the north London jail in 30 months.

At his inquest, last January, the jury concluded that numerous systemic and individual failures led to his death and that his “needs were not met”. And the independent investigation by the prisons and probation ombudsman in 2018 found a catalogue of errors. These included an “over-reliance” on Givans’ assurances that he was OK, an “absence of meaningful contact” with him, as well as a failure to consider his disability, or to document, let alone act on, Givans’ concerns that he was under threat.

A spokeswoman for the MoJ says that since Givans’ death, HMP Pentonville has introduced an improved referral system for new arrivals – and works with the local authority and the healthcare provider to ensure that individual needs are met.

Augustin says Givans “was scared without his hearing aids” and believes he would still be alive if staff had taken notice of his distressed state. Now he cannot see his child grow up,” she says, “which is not normal – any more than it is for a parent to suffer the death of a child.” Lisa Smith, Givans’ former partner and mother to his daughter, is also deaf. She says she can’t understand how prison staff could not see how vulnerable a deaf person without hearing aids would be. “Putting him in prison without hearing aids was like putting him in a hole in the ground,” she says.

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