Self-harm among women prisoners hits record high

‘Many women haven’t seen their families in person for over a year, and are confined to their cells for up to 23 hours a day,’ says campaigner

<p>Self-harm incidents which required the prisoner to go to hospital soared by 35 per cent to 331 in women’s prisons in the last year</p>

Self-harm incidents which required the prisoner to go to hospital soared by 35 per cent to 331 in women’s prisons in the last year

Self-harm among female prisoners has substantially increased in the wake of the coronavirus crisis with the number of incidents reaching a record high, new data shows.

Ministry of Justice statistics show the amount of self-harm incidents among inmates in women’s prisons across England and Wales surged by eight per cent in a year, with 12,443 cases recorded in the year to September.

While this is a substantial increase from 11,482 in the 12 months before that, the amount of self-harm incidents among male prisoners has decreased by around seven per cent.

Incidents had risen among women even more starkly in the most recent quarter - rising by 24 per cent in the female prison estate from the previous quarter.

Self-harm incidents, which required the prisoner to go to hospital soared by 35 per cent to 331 in women’s prisons in the last year.

The government data also reveals there has been a rise in overall deaths of both male and female prisoners, with the most recent quarter seeing the number of deaths rise to 109, an increase of 70 per cent on the 64 deaths in the three months to last September.

A total of 318 people in jail died in the last year, which marks the second highest rate of deaths since records started more than four decades ago.

Dr Kate Paradine, chief executive of Women in Prison, said the new statistics are a “devastating reminder” of the harm which the pandemic has wreaked on women in prison. 

She added: "We’ve seen over a third increase on the number of women admitted to hospital for self-harm year on year – highlighting the worryingly rapid decline of mental health.

“Many women haven’t seen their families in person for over a year, and are confined to their cells for up to 23 hours a day. It doesn’t have to be like this - the government can honour its promise and resume its early release scheme allowing women to safely isolate in the community. 

"For people not eligible, we need to prioritise the vaccinations so women can spend more time outside their cells and visits can eventually resume safely.”  

A previous report by the Prison Reform Trust found 80 per cent of women in jail were serving sentences for non-violent offences. Other studies have found high numbers of female prisoners have suffered domestic abuse, while many suffer from mental health issues - with campaigners frequently warning women in prison are often victims of much more serious offences than the ones they have been convicted of.

Deborah Coles, director of Inquest, a charity which examines state-related deaths, said: “These statistics represent hundreds of people suffering in extreme conditions in prisons. The government ignored experts calling for large-scale early releases to protect people in prison from the impact of the pandemic. 

"We are beginning to see the devastating impacts of that decision. Unless radical action is taken, we fear the worst is yet to come.  

“The reduction in self-inflicted deaths from historically high levels is welcome. However, indefinite solitary confinement is the harrowing reality for men, women and children across the prison estate. This will have serious consequences for both mental and physical health."

She demanded urgent action to make sure prisoners are able to access healthcare, as well as calling for restrictions to be “eased” as quickly as possible. 

Ms Coles added: "In the long term, we need a dramatic reduction of the prison population and more investment in communities.” 

Lucy Frazer, prisons minister, said staff had put a "tremendous effort" into ensuring inmates were kept safe during the Covid crisis.

“Although violence and self-harm started falling before the pandemic and are down again this year, we must be more vigilant than ever about providing support in this incredibly challenging period,” she said.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in