Page last updated at 07:03 GMT, Monday, 14 April 2008 08:03 UK

Self-harm 'on the rise' in jails

Prison door
The Howard League says more vulnerable people are being locked up

Rates of self-harming in prisons are increasing, a charity has warned.

The Howard League for Penal Reform said there were 22,459 self-harm incidents in jails in England and Wales last year, up from 16,393 in 2003.

It found the 37% rise in four years outstripped the rate of increase in the prison population by four times.

But a Ministry of Justice spokesman said the rise was due to a new system which meant incidents were now more accurately recorded.

'Overcrowded prisons'

Howard League director Frances Crook put the rise down to the "overuse" of prison and overcrowding as a result.

She said: "I cannot stress enough that the level of distress inside prisons is so great and we cannot get these people transferred to mental health facilities.

"When men, women and children in jail cut themselves and otherwise assault their own bodies, it is not a cry for help. It is a scream.

One per cent of prisoners are responsible for 25% of all self-harm incidents in the prison estate
Ministry of Justice spokesman

"Warehoused temporarily in prison, many individuals are then released, only to reoffend and be returned to custody.

"Rotting in the chaos and squalor of overcrowded prisons simply serves to exacerbate problems and will most likely lead to more serious and frequent reoffending on release."

As of Friday 11 April, the prison population was 82,003. The Prison Service's "useable operational capacity" was said to be 82,545.

Self-injury rates among women inmates showed the largest increase, with a 48% rise in recorded incidents between 2003 and 2007, according to the Howard League.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the "significant" increase in the number of self-harm cases can be attributed to a more accurate recording of incidents.

"One per cent of prisoners are responsible for 25% of all self-harm incidents in the prison estate," he said.

"The transfer or release of a number of prolific self-harmers can skew the figures enormously."

He added that the Prison Service was working with all jails and the Department of Health to reduce the number of cases.

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