Impact News

Responding to Violence, Suicide, Psychosis and Trauma

Prison self-harm levels revealed

By Neil Puffett
Children & Young People Now
26 February 2009

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has been forced to reveal the true scale of self-harm taking place in young offender institutions (YOIs) following a 14-month investigation by CYP Now. The figures reveal there were a total of 2,040 self-harm incidents last year and 914 assaults on staff.

The MoJ was prompted to release the figures by the Information Commissioner after CYP Now made a series of complaints over attempts to suppress them.

The figures reveal that self-harm incidents have remained at a fairly consistent level over the past three years – 1,835 in 2007 and 2,062 in 2006. However, levels have more than doubled in the past 10 years.

Doubled in a decade

Figures collated in May 2000 for a parliamentary question show there were 879 self-harm incidents in YOIs in 1997/98. Meanwhile, the numbers of young people currently categorised as “self-harmers” stands at 892.

The MoJ admits the figures for 2008 are only provisional and could be even higher as there is a lag in reporting.

The figures, which are not broken down by age, relate to a total of 20 institutions and show variations in how successful each unit has been.

Among the worst performing institutions were Feltham, Glen Parva, Rochester, Stoke Heath and Warren Hill – all of which witnessed increases in self-harm figures of 50 per cent or more since 2006.

Glen Parva has plans to build a further large unit to accommodate 15- to 17-year-olds. But Mike Thomas, chair of the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers, said large institutions will not help the issue.

“It is far better to invest the money in small, more locally based establishments, which are in the best position to work through offending
behaviour,” he said.

The best performing institutions included Castington, Lancaster Farms, Portland and Ashfield. Wendy Sinclair, director of Ashfield, said staff attempt to address the issue of self-harm. “Key to this is a weekly child and adolescent mental health service meeting where specialist psychiatric nurses join forces with co-ordinators across areas such as anti-bullying and
violence reduction,” she said.

The success at Lancaster Farms – which saw five self-harm incidents last year compared with 153 in 2006 – comes despite other problems. In January 2008, rioting inmates caused £222,000 worth of damage, apparently triggered by a 24-hour staff walkout.

Safety concerns

The statistics have prompted concern about the safety of young people in prison and fresh calls for different
approaches to be adopted.

Penelope Gibbs, director of the Prison Reform Trust’s programme to reduce child and youth imprisonment, described the figures as “disturbing and unacceptable”. “These numbers indicate the level of mental health problems is too high,” she added.

Thomasin Pritchard, policy and communications officer at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said a different approach is needed: “Levels of self-harm are a reflection of the fact children are not getting enough support but also that institutes are part of the problem.”

An MoJ spokeswoman said: “Safeguarding remains a priority and the Youth Justice Board is working with cross-government partners and secure estate providers to improve the safeguarding of young people in custody.”

Additional investigation by Tristan Donovan.

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Filed under: self-harm, Violence

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