Epidemic of self-harm sweeps women’s jails
The number of women deliberately harming themselves in prison has almost doubled in five years – despite repeated government promises to improve conditions in women’s jails.
Officials recorded 12,560 cases of women prisoners injuring themselves – mainly by cutting and burning – last year, equivalent to almost three incidents per inmate. In 2003, 6,437 instances of self-harm were recorded in English prisons, about 1.5 per inmate.
Although women make up just five per cent of the prison population in England and Wales, they account for more than half of all self-harming incidents.
Many of the women in prison have been convicted of minor crimes, but suffer high levels of mental illness and drug abuse. The largest number of incidents last year was in Eastwood Park prison, in Gloucestershire, where 2,584 were recorded, compared with 683 just five years earlier. High levels of self-harm also occurred in Styal, Cheshire (2,103 incidents last year), Holloway, north London (1,829), Bronzefield, west London (1,517) and Peterborough (1,337).
Paul Holmes, the Liberal Democrat justice spokesman, who obtained the figures, said: “It is nothing short of a disgrace how women are treated in our overcrowded penal system. It shows how desperate the situation is that the number of incidents has doubled.”
He said: “The issue of women in prison has been ignored for far too long. There are record numbers behind bars but no evidence of a corresponding rise in women committing more serious crime. “The Government must realise prison is not the right place for female offenders who pose no threat to the public.”