Female prisoner suicides soar in overcrowded jails

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Women prisoners are the biggest victims in the crisis that has earned this country the title of jail capital of western Europe.

Women prisoners are the biggest victims in the crisis that has earned this country the title of jail capital of western Europe.

Where there were 1,811 women behind bars 10 years ago, the female prison population of England and Wales stood at 4,610 last Friday. They are crammed into 17 jailsand staff are overstretched.

There has been a sharp rise in incidents of suicide, with female inmates three times more likely to kill themselves than their male counterparts. Ten havecommitted suicide so far this year, compared to 14 during 2003, itself a record total.

The high incarceration rates are linked to changes in sentencing practice. Few of the women can be characterised as dangerous or career criminals. About 40 per cent have been convicted for drug-related offences and another 20 per cent for fraud or theft.

Research has suggested two thirds of women prisoners display symptoms of depression, anxiety or a phobia - a rate far above the male prison population.

Juliet Lyon, the director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "The Home Office should turn its attention to reducing the unnecessary use of remand, diverting mentally ill women into health care, developing drug treatment facilities and establishing a network of local support and supervision centres."

Comments