‘Bold and decisive action’ needed as self-harm and assaults surge in male prisoners

By Anetha Sivananthan
January 14 2020,12.36

The number of self-harm incidents and assaults amongst male prisoners reached a new record high last year.

Self-harming amongst male offenders in prisons across England and Wales has more than doubled from 2009 to 2019 to 49,395, in spite of the partial reversal to spending cuts and prison recruitment drive following major cuts to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) as part of the 2010 Spending Review. 

INTERACTIVE GRAPH: Incidents of self harm and assaults 2009 to 2019

Assaults have additionally risen in prisons, with male offenders accounting for more than 32,000 of total assaults on male and female offenders, and prisoner-on-prisoners being the primary type of assaults by male offenders.

Prison Reform Trust’s (PRT) senior policy and communications manager Alex Hewson said: “The prison system as a whole since 2012 has been under significant strain.

“Staff members have been reduced and the consequences mean people are spending longer in cells and that leads to frustration.”

Mr Hewson stated aggression in prison was influenced by a range of factors including the rise in drugs, whose demand and supply is fuelled by spending 23 hours a day in isolation.

Drugs such as Spice can be smuggled into prisons with lower security through coercion, organised crime or spraying drugs on paper and posting this to people inside.

PRT offer an advice service on life in prison and advocate for policy change via community alternatives and evidence-based policy.

Although, assaults by female offenders increased 11% in 2019, the number of assault-related incidents has remained consistently low, while in male offenders it soared to 23,229 prisoner-on-prisoner assaults and 9,799 assaults on staff.

Self-harm rates between male and female prisoners, however, demonstrate by far the most significant and overwhelming difference, with self-harm in male offenders being 77.3% higher.

Director of INQUEST Deborah Coles said: “Prisons, by their very nature, are dehumanising places which create and intensify vulnerability.

“They are not just ‘in crisis’, they are places of crisis.”

She called the historically high numbers of deaths in prison and the abject failure of the system to prevent them is a moral and political disgrace.

She said: “Bold and decisive action is needed to tackle sentencing policy, reducing prison numbers and redirecting resources to community services.”

If you are looking for help and advice after losing a friend or relative in prison, you can contact INQUEST here or by call 020 7263 1111 (select option one).

Alternatively, if you know someone experiencing difficulties in prison, please ask them to contact the Prison Reform Trust on their free information line 0808 802 0060 or 0207 251 5070 to contact their advice and information service directly.  

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