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Self-harm in prisons reaches new record high for the seventh year running

SELF-HARM in prisons has hit record high levels for a seventh year running, with fears that incidents have risen even further during the Covid-19 crisis. 

New figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) published today laid bare the “perilous” state of jails in Britain with 64,552 recorded incidents of self-harm between March 2019 to 2020. 

This was an increase of 11 per cent compared with the previous year, while self-harm in youth prisons also increased during the same period by 51 per cent. 

In the 12 months to June 2020 — overlapping with the lockdown period — 294 people died in jail.

This amounts to around six deaths every week. Of these 76 were recorded as suicides. 

Although this was 15 fewer deaths than the previous year, campaigners pointed out that the rate of deaths per 1,000 prisoners remained at historically high levels — consistent with the past five years.

Charity Inquest said that these figures are beginning to show the effects of the lockdown on prisoners’ mental health.

Since March 24, inmates have been held in prolonged periods of self-confinement to prevent the spread of Covid-19. 

Inquest director Deborah Coles said: “Yet again, these new figures show prisons are in a perilous state.

“The high number of deaths point to the frustration and despair of those faced with inhumane living conditions and highly restrictive regimes. 

“We anxiously await figures for self-harm from this period. It is already clear that the MoJ’s failure to radically reduce the prison population is risking lives, and will leave a lasting legacy of physical and mental ill health of people in prison.”

Labour shadow justice secretary David Lammy said that the “alarming” figures followed 10 years of cuts to the prison service. 

“With prisoners isolated in their cells for 23 hours per day during the pandemic, the number that are self-harming may have further increased,” he warned. 

Since lockdown prisons across the country have banned visits, education and work with some inmates being confined to their cells for more than 23 hours a day. 

The MoJ said earlier this month that it planned to ease restrictions over the coming weeks. 

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