Socialist Worker

The scandal of soaring self-harm in prisons

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2690

Home secretary Priti Patel likes to project a tough image

Home secretary Priti Patel likes to project a tough image (Pic: @patel4witham on Twitter)


 “Self-harm” in prisons has reached a record high of over 60,000 incidents in a year official figures reveal.

There are more prisoners harming themselves more often.

According to the ministry of justice there were 61,461 incidents in the 12 months to September, up 16 percent from the previous period when there were 53,076.

This is the highest number of incidents since records began in 2009 when it was 24,471.

The number of inmates self-harming also hit a record high to 12,740. In 2009 the number was 6,385.

This meant the number of self-harm incidents per individual rose by 14 percent from 4.2 to 4.8.

Separate figures also published on Thursday showed the number of self-harm incidents in youth custody rose by 3 percent to 1,841 in the year to March, up from 1,779 in the previous period.

The report said, “This is the highest number of self-harm incidents seen in the last five years and the number of injuries as the result of self-harm has continued to increase.”

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said, “A failure to ensure decent and humane conditions, as well as respond effectively to the large proportion of people in prison with serious mental health problems, is being paid for in human misery and distress.

“Sending more people to prison longer will make matters worse.”

Doncaster

The news comes as prison inspectors called for action over the numbers of deaths and incidents of self-harm at HMP Doncaster. This is a category B jail and young offender institution in South Yorkshire which holds around 1,100 male criminals, of whom a quarter are convicted sex offenders.

Inspectors discovered that 700 prisoners were doubling up in cells designed to hold one person at the “badly overcrowded” prison where five inmates took their own lives in the space of a year.

Nationally as many as six prisoners die behind bars every week, said research published earlier this month by the charity Inquest.

According to the latest figures, the number of deaths in prison fell by 8 percent in the 12 months to December, down to 300 from 325 in the previous period.

Of these 84 were self-inflicted, a 9 percent drop from 92 in the previous period.

Deborah Coles, Director of Inquest, said,“Despite investment and scrutiny, the historical context shows that still more people are dying in prison than ever before. A slight recent reduction in the number of deaths comes alongside unprecedented levels of self-harm. Repeated recommendations of coroners, the prison ombudsman and the inspectorate are systematically ignored.

“This is a national scandal and reflects the despair and neglect in prisons. Despite this, the health and safety of people in prison appears to be very low on the agenda of the new government.

“Prioritising prison building and punitive policies will only do more harm and exacerbate this already failing system.”


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