There were more incidents of self-harm among inmates at Styal Prison than anywhere else in England and Wales last year, new figures reveal.
Thousands of incidents of self-harm were recorded at the prison in the 12 months to September 2020, contributing to a record high among female prisoners in England and Wales.
Prisoners injured themselves at least 2,613 times in the 12 months to September 2020, an increase from 2,064 the year before.
At least 114 of these incidents were serious enough to warrant a hospital visit, according to the latest Ministry of Justice figures.
Cutting, drug overdoses and attempted hanging are among cases that must be logged as self-harm by staff at the facility, which housed around 352 people that September.
Experts believe restrictive regimes introduced to curb the spread of coronavirus have had an impact on prisoners’ mental health.
Prison lockdowns have included visiting bans, leaving inmates unable to see children, family and friends.
The Howard League for Penal Reform said the severity of the regimes meant increased isolation, with prisoners spending hours – sometimes up to 22 a day – in their cells, enduring solitude in ‘grim conditions’.
Across England and Wales, there were 12,443 incidents of self-harm at women’s prisons in the 12 months to September last year, representing an 8 per cent increase year on year.
That’s a fifth of all self-harm incidents recorded by prison staff.
Between the second and third quarter of the year, the figures jumped by 24 per cent, with more than 3,500 episodes reported – the highest on record.
At Styal, there were 679 incidents recorded between July and September, compared to 612 the three months before.
Frances Crook, Howard League chief executive, said: “While men’s prisons have found some measure of respite through lockdown measures, the increase in self-injury in women’s prisons is stark and extremely concerning.”
Across England and Wales, the rate of incidents now stands at 595 per 1,000 male prisoners and 3,557 per 1,000 female.
At Styal Prison the estimated rate was 7,423 per 1,000 inmates that year, based on the latest population figures.
The figures show that some of those who self-harm do so multiple times, with men likely to harm themselves on average 4.2 times each, compared to 10 times each for women.
Across prisons in England and Wales, there were 58,870 self-harm incidents in the year to September 2020, a decrease of 8 per cent.
Prisons and probations minister Lucy Frazer said prison staff had put tremendous effort into keeping inmates safe but acknowledged that increased restrictions were ‘extremely tough’.
She said it was important to be more vigilant than ever about providing support throughout an ‘incredibly challenging period’.
The five prisons with the highest number of incidents all house women, with more than 10,000 episodes of self-harm logged at Styal and four other sites – Bronzefield, Foston Hall, Eastwood Park and Peterborough (which also houses men).
The same five prisons also have among the highest rates of self-harm in England and Wales.
A MoJ spokesman said female prisoners were twice as likely to suffer mental health problems and more likely to have been victims of abuse and violence.
She said prison officer training in the support of women with complex issues – including around self-harm and suicide – had been improved and highlighted a £5 million investment in alternatives to prison, including new women’s centres.
The true scale of the issue could be greater, given that monthly figures of less than five are suppressed by the MoJ.