Self-harming in women’s prisons increases to 10-year high

Self-harm incidents in women’s prisons have hit the highest level in a decade after rising by 6% in the last year, official figures show.

There were 11,930 self-harm incidents in female jails in the year to June, according to provisional data from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), up from 11,228 for the same period last year.

It equates to around nine self-harm incidents per inmate. The proportion of incidents leading to a prisoner being taken to hospital was about 2%.

Self-harming incidents have risen in 10 years from 6,262 in the year to June 2013 to the highest figure since June 2010 (11,649).

But this is still below a peak in 2005 of 13,363 incidents.

Overall, self-harm incidents in all adult jails in England and Wales rose by about 1% in the year to June, to 61,153 from 60,668.

The number of reports in male prisons fell slightly to 49,223 from 49,440 a year earlier.

In the most recent quarter there were 13,017 self-harm incidents, down 15% on the previous quarter (15,390), equating to a 19% drop in male prisons but a 1% rise in female jails.

The number of inmates self-harming remained broadly the same (12,736), according to the MoJ report.

Self-harm incidents among child criminals aged between 15 and 18, held in young offender institutions and youth prisons, fell slightly in the 12 months from 992 to 975.

Last week in his final annual report, outgoing chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke said there is an “obvious” link between “excessive time locked in cells and mental health issues, self-harm and drug abuse”.

He added: “Is it any surprise that self-harm in prisons has been running at historically high levels during the past year?

“Prisoners often tell us they are harming themselves to gain some attention, for instance if their applications or complaints are being ignored.”

Self-harm is “not really understood” and this must change to address the problem in different prisons, particularly women’s prisons, he said.

The figures also show the number of assaults behind bars dropped 19% to 27,742 from 34,128, with attacks on staff falling by 13%, to 9,056 from 10,431.

But the proportion of all assaults which were attacks on staff rose to 33%.

The number of attacks prisoners carried out on fellow inmates fell by 21%, from 24,145 to 19,053.

Meanwhile figures for the year to September show the number of deaths in prison custody fell by 8%, from 308 to 282.

Of these, 70 deaths were “self-inflicted”, a decrease of 23% compared to 91 in the previous 12 months.

Deborah Coles, director of the charity Inquest, said: “Across the prison estate, men, women and children are languishing in conditions amounting to solitary confinement.

“The detrimental impact to physical and mental health cannot be underestimated.

“Extreme restrictions are being justified as the only way to contain the pandemic in prisons. This is not the case.”