Exclusive

Self-harm rates in female prisons reaches all time high, as charity calls for better mental health support for inmates

26 October 2023, 12:17 | Updated: 26 October 2023, 12:58

HMP Woodhill is among the prisons to have been flagged with high rates of self-harm.
HMP Woodhill is among the prisons to have been flagged with high rates of self-harm. Picture: Alamy
Lillie Almond

By Lillie Almond

Self-harm rates in female prisons reached an all time high over the last year, according to new figures released by the Ministry of Justice, as observers raised the alarm about prisoners' mental health.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Officials said that over the last 12-month period, the rate of recorded self-harm incidents in female prisons increased by 63% to a new peak, compared to a much smaller increase of 3% among male prisoners.

The self-harm rate in female prisons is now more than eleven times higher than in male prisons.

There are signs that self-harm may have peaked: the last quarter saw an 11% decrease in self-harm in female prisons, compared with the previous three months. Officials said this was the first quarter-on-quarter decrease in the female estate since the fourth quarter of 2021.

Some 23 people took their own lives in the most recent three-month period in prisons in England and Wales, a 28% increase from the previous quarter.

It comes after the Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB), which report on the quality of care for people in detention across the UK, raised concerns about prisoners with extreme mental health conditions at HMP Peterborough.

The IMB said that some prisoners went days, or in some cases weeks, without their prescribed medication because of processing delays.

“Prison staff have no mental health training, and although support is provided by on-site mental health professionals, treatment options that would be available in mental health facilities are lacking," the watchdog added.

They also said that “strong support was seen being given to prisoners who intentionally injure themselves.” Officials added that “violence is assertively managed by prison staff.”

Read more: 'Miracle' more mistakes not happening in prisons as Scottish jails slammed in report

Read more: UK government to rent prison spaces abroad as overcrowding reaches breaking point

Separately, Charlie Taylor, the chief inspector of prisons, wrote in an urgent notification in August that HMP Woodhill, a high security prison in Milton Keynes - was "unsafe" and had "the highest rate of reported self-harm in the adult male estates".

Michelle has a son there, who she says recently tried to take his own life, told LBC: "It’s very, very, very, very heartbreaking - it’s stressful - there’s days when I cry.

“When I heard my son telling me goodbye that time, to then still be let down, knowing that my son, and others - are still struggling. It’s hard, there’s times when I don’t sleep, I don’t eat, because I worry about my son. I want my son to come out there alive, I’ve expressed it to the prison so many times.

“I don’t want to bring my son out of prison in a bodybag.

“If they don’t come out in a bodybag, they’re coming out with worse mental health than they went in with.

“And the way the prison system’s built, it’s us on the outside that have to try and get through it with them. We know our kids are doing the sentences, (or our family members) but we’re also doing it on the outside.”

Concerns about understaffing, overcrowding and their impacts have also been raised by charity Nacro, which supports a range of people - including some in the justice system.

Helen Berresford, Nacros' director of external engagement, said that mental health training for prison staff needed improving.

“We already see high rates of self harm, we see high rates of suicide, we see high levels of violence in prisons - we absolutely need to tackle this, to make sure we bring those down and we give people the best chance at a second chance," she said.

“It’s a combination of more investments and more treatment availability. It’s definitely training for staff - so there is a level of training already, but I would say more, and ongoing training.

“And then, the whole prison environment - and looking at that, which is about the kind of, tackling overcrowding. I would definitely say that overcrowding will be making this worse.

“I mean, it’s absolutely going to be having an impact - because you can’t access the level of service you might want to access; prisons are more difficult to work in, and to be in.”

Replying to the chief inspector of prisons’ urgent notification about HMP Woodhill, Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said in September: “The site’s Safety Team will also be strengthened through four additional staff members for a period of 24 months to help stabilise the establishment.

"Two additional temporary staff will be recruited for a minimum of 18 months to act as floorwalkers, who will build knowledge, confidence and capability and improve practice in the investigation of violence and safeguarding for those at risk of self-harm."

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The safety of all staff and prisoners is our priority, which is why we ensure the most vulnerable prisoners have access to the round-the-clock care and mental health services.

"We are working tirelessly to ensure our hardworking staff are protected through our £100m security investment, X-ray body scanners specialist prison dogs and body-worn cameras.”

Those feeling distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

William appeared at Ascot

Prince William shares tender moment with Kate's mother as she suffers mishap at Ascot

Jay Slater's family have warned people about donating to fake pages

'I just want my baby back': Mother of missing Brit Jay Slater, 19, issues plea after 'false sighting' delays search

Keir Starmer came out on top after LBC’s two exclusive phone-ins

Keir Starmer comes out on top after LBC phone-ins – as Rishi Sunak seen as ‘overwhelmingly negative’

OceanGate co-founder Guillermo Söhnlein is pictured with CEO Stockton Rush, who died on the Titan sub

Oceangate co-founder claims he can 'safely' send 1,000 people to Venus

Labour must ditch 'phoney fiscal rules' and borrow to invest in public services, says boss of UK's largest trade union

Labour must ditch 'phoney fiscal rules' and borrow to invest in public services, says boss of UK's largest trade union

Theo Paphitis speaks to LBC.

'They've lost the plot': Ex-Tory donor and Dragons' Den star Theo Paphitis reveals why he's switched support to Labour

Exclusive
Sir David Ormand has criticised the Conservatives for suggesting Keir Starmer is a security risk

Former spy boss criticises 'disreputable' Tory suggestion that Putin and Xi would welcome Starmer as Prime Minister

Justin Timberlake was arrested on Tuesday

'We'll have a lot to say': Justin Timberlake's lawyer vows to 'vigorously defend' singer after DWI arrest

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday

Rishi Sunak set 'to become first PM to lose seat' in election wipeout with Conservatives down to just 53 MPs, poll finds

Starmer and Neville

Keir Starmer tells Gary Neville he needs to win British people's trust, as he warns turning UK around will take 10 years

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrives for a visit to Great Wood Farm Early Years Centre, Grantham in East Midlands, June 17

Sunak close protection officer arrested over alleged election date bets

Allen Morgan, 73, said he was locked in a "passionate but forbidden" affair with his now wife Margaret, 75, when he hired a hitman to kill his then-partner Carol

Pensioner found guilty of conspiring to murder wife after hiring hitman amid 'passionate but forbidden' affair

Charlie Cosser

Teenager jailed for life for murdering 17-year-old Charlie Cosser on dance floor at party

Police were called to a property at Shorncliffe Road shortly after 3pm on Sunday

Baby girl mauled to death in dog attack at family home in Coventry

The tourists trying to stop Stonehenge being vandalised

Moment hero tourists grab Just Stop Oil spraying paint on Stonehenge, as activists 'damage rare lichen'

Anthony Hill disappeared on Monday morning

CCTV images show last sighting of Martin Lewis' MoneyExpertSaving colleague before going missing on 37th birthday