What happened to Emily Hartley? The State murdered her.

On April 23, 2016, Emily Hartley, 21 years old, living with severe mental illness, was found dead in the exercise yard at HMP New Hall, near Wakefield. Emily Hartley was found hanging. According to reports, she entered the exercise yard at 3 pm. She was “found” two and a half hours later. Emily Hartley told the staff she wanted to end her life, and the staff left her unmonitored for two and a half hours. In 2015, seven women killed themselves in prisons in England and Wales. In 2016, 12 women prisoners committed suicide. Does anyone care? Yes. Family, friends, supporters care. Does the State care? Absolutely not. If it did, Emily Hartley would be alive and perhaps even thriving today.

Emily Hartley had a history of self-harm, suicide and drug addiction. In May 2015, Emily Hartley was living in a multiple occupancy building. She set fire to herself, her bed and curtains. She was charged with arson … for setting herself on fire. Rather than send her to a hospital, for the help and care she clearly needed, she was sent to a bail hostel, where she resumed taking drugs. This was considered a breach of bail conditions, and so Emily Hartley was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison. She was sent to New Hall in November 2015. By the end of April, she was dead.

Emily Hartley was supposedly monitored under suicide and self-harm management protocols. That should have meant observation at regular intervals. Whether or not those occurred remains to be seen. What is known is that Emily Hartley continued to self-harm throughout her stay at New Hall. Emily Hartley repeatedly told the staff that she wanted to die. She complained that that staff bullied her and did not listen. The staff responded with repeated disciplinary procedures. On April 23, the day she died, Emily told her mother, by phone, that she was feeling manic and that no one was checking on her for hours on end.

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST, which advocates around deaths in custody, noted, “Emily was the youngest of 12 women to take her own life in prison in 2016. Just like the many women who died before her she should never have been in prison in the first place. This inquest must scrutinise her death and how such a vulnerable young woman was able to die whilst in the care of the state.”

In 2016, three women prisoners in HMP New Hall died by “self-inflicted” causes. INQUEST asks, “How many women need to die on the inside before Governments take action?” How many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died? Government is taking action. It is building a tower of women prisoners’ cadavers. If history is any guide, Emily Hartley’s story, like that of Caroline Ann Hunt the year before, will soon be forgotten by most of us. This is who we are. We are the citizens and builders of the State of Abandonment. We are the people who see a woman on fire, begging for help, and we respond, “She should go to prison for arson.”

Emily Hartley


(Image Credit: INQUEST) (Photo Credit: Mirror / Sunday People)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.