With the effects of COVID-19 it has caused many prisoners to be separated from their families and loved ones even more so than before. Having more than a year apart from seeing their families on a face to face basis has caused a serious impact on some inmates, seeing a record high in self harming cases across some of the women’s prisons.
Self harm amongst female prisoners has increased rapidly. A spokesman said “Many women haven’t seen their families in person for over a year, and are confined to their cells for up to 23 hours a day”. The crisis of the Coronavirus has created a number of incidents reaching a record high, new data shows.
The Coronavirus Crisis
Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020, The Ministry of Justice has shared the amount of self-harm incidents among inmates in women’s prisons across England and Wales has surged by eight per cent in less than a year, with over 12,440 cases recorded in the year to September alone.
Comparing these figures has seen a substantial increase from 11,482 in the 12 months before that, however, the amount of self-harm incidents among male prisoners has decreased by around seven per cent.
Women are more likely to self harm than men.
Self-harm incidents, which required the prisoner to go to hospital soared by 35 per cent to 331 in women’s prisons in the last year.
Maya Openheim wrote an open report when speaking with an ex prisoner on how the distress of being in Prison was affecting women before the crisis of the Coronavirus. “I saw lots of women self-harming. It was an absence of attention for many of them and feeling like not having someone to recognise they were alive.” a former prisoner told her in her report. This showing the downside effects were already taking place before the affects of COVID-19.
Another spokesperson, Dr Kate Paradine, chief executive of Women in Prison, said the new statistics are a “devastating reminder” of the harm which the pandemic has wreaked on women in prison.
She added: “We’ve seen over a third increase on the number of women admitted to hospital for self-harm year on year – highlighting the worryingly rapid decline of mental health.
“Many women haven’t seen their families in person for over a year, and are confined to their cells for up to 23 hours a day. It doesn’t have to be like this – the government can honour its promise and resume its early release scheme allowing women to safely isolate in the community.
“For people not eligible, we need to prioritise the vaccinations so women can spend more time outside their cells and visits can eventually resume safely.”
Unless drastic measures are taken we fear that the worst is yet to come.
The government data also reveals there has been a rise in overall deaths of both male and female prisoners, with the most recent quarter seeing the number of deaths rise to 109, an increase of 70 per cent on the 64 deaths in the three months to last September.
A total of 318 people in jail died in the last year, which marks the second highest rate of deaths since records started more than four decades ago.
Deborah Coles, director of Inquest, a charity which examines state-related deaths, said: “These statistics represent hundreds of people suffering in extreme conditions in prisons. The government ignored experts calling for large-scale early releases to protect people in prison from the impact of the pandemic.
“We are beginning to see the devastating impacts of that decision. Unless radical action is taken, we fear the worst is yet to come.”
Ms Coles added: “In the long term, we need a dramatic reduction of the prison population and more investment in communities.”
“Although violence and self-harm started falling before the pandemic and are down again this year, we must be more vigilant than ever about providing support in this incredibly challenging period,” she said. The staff and teams within the Prisons are doing their upmost to look after and support those are struggling.
Only time will tell to see if change will be made, sooner rather than later.