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BBC's Daniel Boettcher
"Young offenders are especially vulnerable"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 7 December, 1999, 08:27 GMT
'Self-harm in jail' shoots up
Some prisons recorded hundreds of incidents


The number of prisoners who deliberately injure themselves because they cannot cope with life in jail has shot up, a report has warned.

There were more than 7,000 recorded incidents of inmates harming themselves in England and Wales in the year to March 1999, according to the report by the Howard League penal reform group.

The figures represents a 140% increase on those in 1991.


These people need help and understanding - instead their actions are trivialised, ignored or dismissed as a normal part of prison life
Howard League's Frances Crook
Young offenders were said to be particularly vulnerable, while the rate of self-harm among female prisoners was 5.5 times higher than for males, according to the report.

Earlier this year the fly-on-the-wall BBC documentary, Jailbirds, filmed at New Hall prison in Yorkshire showed significant numbers of women indulging in self-harm due to low self-esteem or even self-loathing.

Some prisons recorded hundreds of incidents.

There were 479 cases logged at Doncaster prison in South Yorkshire, 370 at Elmley near Sheerness, Kent, and 305 at Wandsworth in south London.

Most incidents involved prisoners cutting themselves with razors or other implements, said the Howard League.

'Vulnerable people'

The group said the figures could be even higher because of the way the data was recorded.

League director Frances Crook said vulnerable people sent to prison were spending hours locked in cells.

'Warehouses'

She said some jails, including Holloway, Durham and Norwich, operate effective policies to deal with self-harm.

But others were "warehouses" for non-violent offenders who should not be in prison.

She said: "These people need help and understanding - instead their actions are trivialised, ignored or dismissed as a normal part of prison life.


Caring for those prisoners at risk is probably the most difficult task faced by the Prison Service
Prison Service chief Martin Narey
"No prison officer whose son or daughter harmed themselves would consider it to be normal behaviour. It should not be considered normal for prisoners either."

Martin Narey, director general of the Prison Service, said the main issues raised in the report were already being addressed.

He said: "There is no greater priority for me than reducing suicides and I recognise the link between suicide and self-harm.

"Caring for those prisoners at risk is probably the most difficult task faced by the Prison Service.

"I am, therefore, pleased that the Howard League's report recognises the Prison Service's efforts on suicide and self-harm prevention and highlights many of our establishments as examples of good practice."

Mr Narey said staff were being given revised training in suicide awareness, while recording procedures for self-harm were being standardised.

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See also:
08 Nov 99 |  UK
Call to keep mothers out of prison
31 Aug 99 |  UK Politics
Young offenders 'could face adult prison'
23 Jul 99 |  UK
Jail warders face prisoner assault probe
16 Aug 99 |  UK
Prison corruption claims denied

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