Responding to the largest-ever study of self-injury in prisons, led by Dr Seena Fazel and Professor Keith Hawton of Oxford University and published in the Lancet today (16 December 2013), Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform***, said:

This epidemic self-mutilation by women in prison is yet another sign that prisons are unable to cope. Crimes women commit and the situations that lead them to crime differ profoundly from those of men.

The vast majority of women are either remanded or have committed non-violent offences and should be given a community sentence focused on the roots of their criminal behaviour. For those who require custody, small secure centres should be set up that help these women away from crime while keeping the public safe.

Recent government decisions to close the only two open prisons for women and the mother and baby unit at Holloway will make matters worse, reducing women’s access to their family and increasing their feelings of isolation and despair.

These findings increase the importance of the SP inquiry♦♦♦, due to hold public hearings next year, about a 17-year-old girl in custody who nearly died because of her repeated cutting and self-injury.”

The study can be found here:

Prison Bars by Andrew bardwell via Wikimedia Commons

Prison Bars by Andrew bardwell

***The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.

♦♦♦The SP inquiry is an independent public inquiry commissioned by the Ministry of Justice to look into the treatment of a young woman in custody who nearly died through self-harm. The young woman known as Susan (not her real name) spent two years and three months in custody from the age of 16. Unable to cope, she repeatedly lacerated her arms and wrists, needing frequent hospitalisation. The Prison Service responded by placing her in solitary confinement in the punishment cells. Her self-harm escalated until she was losing dangerous quantities of blood and required blood transfusions. Eventually, following another emergency hospitalisation, the Howard League obtained an injunction preventing her return to prison. As a result, she was transferred to a secure psychiatric hospital where she is now recovering.

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