24th August 2020
The second report from the Irish Prison Service Self-Harm Assessment and Data Analysis (SADA) Project has been published. IPRT welcomes the collation, analysis and publication of these data; this is important to inform effective policy responses. 'Self-harm in Irish Prisons 2018' is available here.
This is the second annual report on all recorded episodes of self-harm by people in Irish Prison Service custody. The report, which examines the year of 2018, shows an 18% year-on-year increase in number of incidents of self-harm (in which the number of persons involved also increased by 7%), with the highest rates of self-harm occurring among those aged 18-29, among female prisoners, and among those on remand.
IPRT notes with concern at the high rate of self-harm among women serving short prison sentences, given that many women in prison have prior experience of violence or other significant trauma. Broad policy consensus in Ireland is that community-based responses to offending by women are more appropriate, effective and less damaging.
Responding to the report findings, IPRT reiterates the importance of action on the Programme for Government commitment to establish a taskforce on mental health and imprisonment, as well the need for increased resourcing of prison psychology services, and a restated commitment to using prison as a sanction of last resort.
Welcoming the publication of the report, IPRT Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide said:
"It is well established that women and men in prison disproportionately experience mental health difficulties, and that the prison environment exacerbates these issues. One of the most welcome criminal justice commitments in the Programme for Government is the commitment to establish a high-level cross-departmental and cross-agency taskforce to consider the mental health and addiction challenges of people in prison. The prevalence of mental illness in Irish prisons is a public health issue requiring an effective and prompt response, including diversion to appropriate treatment outside prison. A whole-of-government approach is needed.”
The recorded rate of self-harm among women in prison in 2018 was 5.7 times higher than the rate for men, with almost one in every five women in prison in Ireland engaging in self-harm in 2018. Almost half of all women who did self-harm in 2018 did so on more than one occasion. The lives of women in prison are often marked by disadvantage and trauma, with many of their support needs going unmet in the prison environment. In order to break the cycle of offending, prison should be a sanction of last resort for women, with diversion to appropriate wraparound supports, including mental health and addiction services in the community.
While the figures published today give an insight into overall rates of self-harm across the year, it is important to also acknowledge the number of lives that are saved every year through the timely interventions of prison staff.
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