Shocking Increase in Self-harm Incidents in Young Offenders

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A West Midlands young offenders institute has come under fire after a dramatic increase in cases of self-harm came to light. Over just six months, the numbers of self-harming incidents have totalled more than 500 cases, pointing to serious failures in the care of the inmates living in this prison.

HMYOI Brinsford, on the outskirts of Wolverhampton, has come under scrutiny after inspectors discovered that prisoners, in many cases, were only being allowed out of cells for 45 minutes per day. One prisoner was overlooked by staff and left in their cell for four days, failing to take part in activities or shower during that time.

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, has blamed the sheer ‘boredom and frustration’ of these 18 – 21-year-old men for the rise in self-harm as well as violent incidents at the institute. As well as the 554 incidents of self-harm there have been 106 fights and 116 attacks over the same six months.

It seems that those prisoners who are in employment were allowed up to ten hours outside of their cells each day. Conversely, those who were not working would be allowed only 45 minutes or so do talk to families, attend appointments, shower and exercise.

Self-harm – a widespread problem?

In young people in general, self-harm has been known to affect around one in 12 individuals, with rates as high as one in ten at ages 15 to 16. However, it’s not a condition that is limited to teenagers alone. The UK has the highest rate of the mental health issue self-harm of any European country, with this condition estimated to affect 400 out of every 100,000 people across all sectors of the community. However, this figure could be very much higher, as many self-harmers never seek help or tell anyone about it.

Self-harming is a symptom of a much more complex problem, often associated with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. Once someone starts to self-harm, stopping can be difficult, so it’s important to recognise that there is no ‘quick fix’.

Helping young offenders to stop self-harming

Being able to talk to people outside of the prison system has been shown to be beneficial to the mental wellbeing of all inmates, not just young offenders, so keeping in touch with families and friends outside can be crucial. However, with limited access to funds it can be hard for them to call when they really need to talk. Services such as Prison phone have been successful in helping offenders keep in touch with families at any time, by reducing the cost of calling their loved one’s mobile phones. It’s the simple things like this that can make so much difference.

However, ultimately, the responsibility for improving the well-being and care of these young men must fall to the prison service itself. However, following significant budget cuts and ever more stretched resources, there are often not many options available to prison staff despite their well-meaning intentions.

It’s clear to all that keeping young men locked up for 23 hours a day is not going to work, but without additional funding, it’s hard to see how things will improve. Situations like Brinsford are undoubtedly being replicated across the UK as the prison service becomes ever more stretched, but only ministers have the power to make a serviceable change.

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