Irish Penal Reform Trust

Self-Harm in Irish Prisons 2017 Report

4th October 2018

The Irish prison Service has published its first report on episodes of self-harm recorded in Irish Prisons.

The SADA project (Self-Harm Assessment and Data Analysis) was developed by staff in the Irish Prison Service, in collaboration with the National Office for Suicide Prevention and the National Suicide Research Foundation. The reports will be published on an annual basis, and will "increase and improve [IPS] responses to maintaining safer prisons."

Findings include:

  • Rate of self-harm was 4.4 times higher among female prisoners than male prisoners (16.0 versus 3.6 per 100) - a larger gender difference than observed in self-harm among the general population.
  • The highest rates of self-harm were among younger prisoners: male prisoners aged 18-24 years (5.0 per 100) and female prisoners aged 25-29 years (12.0 per 100).
  • Compared with sentenced prisoners, the rate of self-harm was 2.4 times higher among prisoners on remand (7.4 versus 3.1 per 100).
  • Three-quarters (77%) of self-harm episodes involved prisoners in single-cell accommodation. Most episodes (60%) occurred while prisoners were unlocked from cells.
  • 44% of prisoners who engaged in self-harm were in general population accommodation; a further 44% were in protection (including Rule 62 and 63) at the time of the self-harm act.

Factors relating to mental health issues/mental illness were the primary contributory factors recorded; these related to the "presence of mental disorders, coping and emotional dysregulation, substance misuse and hopelessness."

The findings also highlighted prison-specific contributory factors; these related to environment, including accommodation as well as legal issues. Other cited factors includes procedural issues ("a recent cell move and change in regime or security level") and relationship difficulties with staff, family members and friends, as well as with other prisoners.

On publication of the report, Michael Donnellan, Director General, Irish Prison Service, said:

"The issue of suicide and self-harm is a major concern in today's society, and this problem is even more emphasised in a prison setting where people are separated from family, friends and community supports. The Self-Harm Assessment and Data Analysis (SADA) Project allows the prison service to take an in-depth look at this issue and hopefully reduce incidents in the future".

IPRT strongly welcomes the SADA project, the recording of contributory factors associated with episodes of self-harm, and the publication of the data.

The report can be accessed here.

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