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Self-harming in prisons at record high in England and Wales with new incident every ten minutes

Government data also shows suicide rate among former prisoners in community up by a fifth in a year

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 31 October 2019 11:23 GMT
Government figures released on Thursday reveal 60,594 inmates harmed themselves in the year to June 2019, up 22 per cent from the same period in the previous year
Government figures released on Thursday reveal 60,594 inmates harmed themselves in the year to June 2019, up 22 per cent from the same period in the previous year (Getty)

A prisoner self-harms every ten minutes in jails across England and Wales, according to new data showing the number of incidents has surged to a record high.

Government figures released on Thursday reveal 60,594 inmates harmed themselves in the 12 months to June 2019, up 22 per cent from the same period in the previous year.

Violence in jails also increased again, with 34,112 assault incidents in the year, up 5 per cent from the 12 months to June 2018. Among these, 10,424 were against members of staff, up 10 per cent.

The rate of suicide in prisons remained fairly stable, rising by just over 1 per cent from, with 90 inmates taking their lives in 2018/19, compared with 80 the previous year.

The number of former inmates taking their lives after leaving jail meanwhile increased by a fifth – from 283 to 337 – over the 12-month period, raising concerns offenders are not getting the support they need once released back into the community.

The new figures come after a scathing report by a committee of MPs accused the government of making “policy by press release” announcements that do nothing to tackle long-term issues driving violence and reoffending.

The Justice Committee said Boris Johnson’s pledges to create thousands of new prison places and boost security inside jails would not address an “enduring crisis of safety and decency”.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said: “How can any government contemplate sending more people to prison on ever longer sentences when it is failing so completely to meet its duty of care to the individuals involved?

"These terrible figures show that the prison system is not in recovery. Politically motivated announcements over the summer can only make the situation even worse, and the Justice Committee’s scathing report today correctly shows that the government has no plan to deal with the consequences.”

Responding to the 90 inmate suicides, Deborah Coles, executive director of INQUEST, said: “These statistics are more than numbers. They represent real people in extreme distress, leading to preventable deaths and traumatic bereavement for families.

"As a society we should not accept this endless cycle of systemic neglect and political indifference [...] The lack of accountability for these deaths, and the abject failure of the system to prevent them, is a moral and political disgrace."

On the rise in self-inflicted deaths of offenders in the community, Ms Coles said the incidents required "urgent scrutiny" and condemned the "current lack of independent investigation".

She added: "What is known is that people are being released into failing support systems, poverty and an absence of services for mental health and additions. This is state abandonment. This is the violence of austerity.”

In light of the rise in violence on staff, the Prison Officers' Association (POA) said the true figures would in fact be "much worse" due to "rife" levels of under recording, and called on the government to urgently intervene to protect prison officers.

National chair of the POA, Mark Fairhurst, said ministers had failed to fulfil its promise to roll-out the use of PAVA spray, and that a new "key worker scheme" was not reducing violence despite assurances that this was the way forward.

Victims allowed to challenge ‘lenient’ prison sentences

“Our employer has dramatically failed to address violence and self-harm in our prisons. Empty promises will not curtail the life changing injuries both staff and prisoners face."

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson accepted that levels of violence and self-harm in prisons were "unacceptably high", but said the government remained "determined to make progress to ensure jails reform offenders, reduce reoffending and keep the public safe".

They added: “Our £2.75bn investment will modernise jails and step up security to stop the flow of drugs and weapons which fuel these issues.

“We have also trained over 25,000 staff in suicide and self-harm prevention and introduced the key worker scheme to give each prisoner a dedicated prison officer for support.”

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