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Self-harm among women and children in UK prisons rises to record levels

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The government has been accused of allowing self-harm among female prisoners and children in custody to rise to record levels after the release of new figures.

Incidents of self-harm among women in UK prisons increased by 47% in the three months to June 2021, according to statistics from the Ministry of Justice. This compares with an 8% increase over the same period in men’s prisons.

Over the past year, the total number of self-harm incidents in men’s prisons fell by 16% to 41,150, but increased by 2% in women’s prisons to 12,140 – the highest figure in a decade.

The number of individual children and young people self-harming increased by a fifth, according to a separate set of statistics released by the MoJ, while the rate of self-harm for the latest three months to 30 June 2021 was the highest for at least seven years.

The rise coincides with a highly restrictive regime applied to prisons to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 in the estate, which experts including the then chief inspector of prisons warned would have a devastating impact on prisoners’ mental health.

David Lammy, the shadow justice secretary, said: “The levels of self-harm in women’s prisons and the youth estate are a national disgrace. The government is failing in its duty of care and must now urgently review its mental health support to female offenders and children in custody.”

The rate of self-harm in women’s prisons is seven times that of the male estate, according to the statistics. At 3,808 incidents per 1,000 female prisoners, it is the highest rate of self-harm in women’s prisons on record.

Self-harming rates are more than 11 times higher among girls in youth custody than boys in the year to June 2021, the figures show.

There were on average 18 females in youth custody but 374 self-harm incidents over a year. This compares with an average of 589 males and 1,064 self incidents between 2020/21.

Related: Jailing of most mothers for non-violent crimes should stop, says report

The average population in the children and young people’s secure estate was 24% lower in the three months to June 2021 compared with 2020.

Referring to plans announced in the spending review to fund prison places for 20,000 people including 500 women, Lammy said: “Instead of fixing the crisis they have created, the Tories are spending £150m of taxpayers’ money to build 500 new prison places for women – that’s £300,000 per space. The government should invest in rehabilitation to stop reoffending.”

Statistics released on Thursday also show the number of illegal migrants detained in the UK increased by a fifth over the last year as the Home Office struggled to deport people during the pandemic.

Government officials said 25,000 new and existing staff received self-harm and suicide prevention training.

An MoJ spokesperson said: “While self-harm has fallen across the prison estate over the last year, mental health support has increased in recognition of the need for strong action. This has included a new taskforce dedicated to reducing high levels of self-harm in women’s prisons.

“All youth custody officers now receive degree-level training to help them support the often complex needs of the small number of vulnerable children who end up in custody.”

  • In the UK the charity Mind is on 0300 123 3393, and ChildLine on 0800 1111.

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