Self-harm among prisoners up 40 per cent

Incidences of prisoner self-harming have increased by nearly 40 per cent since 2003, according to a leading prison reform charity.

The Howard League for Penal Reform have announced figures that suggest the number of incidents of self-harm in UK prisons has increased from 16,393 five years ago to 22,459 in 2007.

This represents a 37 per cent increase and is at a rate nearly four times that of the increasing number of prison inmates in the same period.

The charity said the figures were even more worrying in women’s prisons, with a 48 per cent rise in rates of self-harming since 2003.

Howard League director Frances Crook described the figures as “shocking”, saying they are “far above what might be expected”.

“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,” Ms Crook said.

“We lock up ever increasing numbers of men, women and children whose mental health problems and addictions will never be properly treated within our flooded and failing jails.

“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 to lead to more serious and frequent reoffending on release.”

However, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said the figures had been skewed by an improved system of reporting incidents of self-harm and that a small number of troubled prisoners accounted for a large number of incidents.

“The significant increase in the number of prisoner self-harm incidents can be attributed to the introduction of a much more thorough and robust reporting system,” the spokesperson said.

“This led establishments to become more effective at reporting, leading to a marked increase in self-harm incidents between then and the present.

“One per cent of prisoners are responsible for 25 per cent of all self-harm incidents in the prison estate.

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