Peterborough The Self-Harm Capital Of The Prison Estate

self_harm07:07 Friday 26th April 2013
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: Peterborough Prison had the highest amount of self-harm incidents in the whole of the UK in 2012. More than 1200 incidents were recorded last year. That’s more than 400 more than the next worst prison, Foston Hall In Derby. 24 self-harm incidents were recorded every week at the prison last year. Now Andrew Nielson Director of Campaigns at the Howard League For Penal Reform, which is a charity working for less crime, safer communities, and fewer people in prison, he’s with us this morning. Andrew, morning.
ANDREW NIELSON: Morning.
PAUL STAINTON: First of all I suppose, your reaction to these figures.
ANDREW NIELSON: Shocking obviously that Peterborough tops the table. There is some positive news in that the national figure of self-harm incidents in prisons has gone slightly down. But why Peterborough is top? I think they ke point, and I think it actually relates to another story you’ve got today about the Dawn Project, working with women, is that Peterborough holds both men and women. And while self-harm in custody is a problem found across the board, there’s absolutely no doubt that it’s the biggest problem with women in prison.
PAUL STAINTON: Why?
ANDREW NIELSON: Women represent just one in twenty people in prison, but they make up almost half of all self-harm incidents in custody. Now there’s around 360 women in Peterborough, which is a prison with just over 800 prisoners. And we have not got a gender breakdown of the self-harm incidents in Peterborough, but if you take that figure I’ve just given you, that half of all self-harm incidents are committed by women, then I suspect that the vast majority of the self-harm incidents at Peterborough Prison are being committed by the women there.
PAUL STAINTON: Are you saying the cause is partly the fact that it’s a mixed prison?
ANDREW NIELSON: Well the fact that women are there is the driver. The next highest prison, Foston Hall, is an entirely women’s prison, for example. And two of the other top five prisons are women’s prisons.
PAUL STAINTON: So you’d like to keep women out of prison, then they wouldn’t self-harm in prison. But they would perhaps self-harm somewhere else, wouldn’t they?
ANDREW NIELSON: They get worse in prison. I think this is the point. I heard an American once say, and I think it’s true here as well, that we tend to send the mad, the bad and the sad to prison. And the only people we should be sending are the bad. And with women. all too often I’m afraid, they fall into the first category if they’re going to prison, because these are women who’ve not committed violent offences, but they have drug and alcohol addictions, they have mental health problems, they’ve committed minor offences, usually to feed those addictions. They are at the end of a very long and sad road. And prison is not the place for them. And when they get to prison, they only get worse, because prisons are not equipped to help them.
PAUL STAINTON: So we should, like the Dawn project we’re going to talk about later, we should be doing all we can to keep women out of prison, should we?
ANDREW NIELSON: Yes. I think it’s disappointing to hear the Dawn Project’s future is under threat, because the Government, this Government and the last Government, have recognised that prisons are not working for women. They were designed with men in mind. The vast majority of women don’t need to be there, so they have been funding these kinds of projects to try and keep women out of jail. And there have been promises to look at ideas for small local secure units, for those women who need custody. We haven’t got very far on that idea. Women are still being held in prisons like Peterborough, hundreds of women as I say, but at least there was some funding for projects to try and keep them out, and offer them help in the community. And it’s disappointing to hear that a project like the Dawn Project is facing an uncertain future.
PAUL STAINTON: We talk about keeping women out of prison, but people don’t go to prison unless they’ve done things over and over again. These must be persistent offenders to get a prison sentence. We’ve got to send a message, haven’t we? Some people have got to go to prison.
ANDREW NIELSON: Well the re-offending rates are so high that if it gets to the point of sending them to prison, then all you’re doing is basically giving up.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes but if somebody .. if I own a shop, and somebody comes in and shoplifts twenty times, the same person, I want them dealt with, otherwise they’re going to keep doing it and keep doing it and keep doing it.
ANDREW NIELSON: But if you want them dealt with, the most effective way of dealing particularly with women, as I say, would be in the community, with projects like the Dawn Project, which are going to be trying to tackle the reasons why they’re offending. As I say, when it’s women offending in particular, this is often the case with men as well, but it’s really the case with women, very clearly, very starkly, they have a lot of problems. And those problems are not going to be dealt with by a short spell in prison, when the prison will have them for a couple of weeks, with nothing much they can do except try and stop them getting worse. And as the self-harm figures show, that suggests that it’s not happening. Even a short spell in prison means a woman can lose her child, her home, and any employment she has.
PAUL STAINTON: And that contributes to the downward spiral.
DANIEL NIELSON: Absolutely. Only makes things much worse.
PAUL STAINTON: Could more be done in prison to help women, do you think?
ANDREW NIELSON: I think with the very short periods .. because as I say these are not women committing serious offences, so they’re not .. they’re never going to be ..
PAUL STAINTON: You say that, but people don’t get .. you don’t get to go to prison unless you’ve done something seriously wrong.
ANDREW NIELSON: I promise you the vast majority of women are not in prison for violent offences. Most of them are in for things like shoplifting, debt related offences, because they get into trouble with their finances because of the issues they’ve got.
PAUL STAINTON: How do they self-harm when they’re in prison? How do they get hold of the stuff to self-harm with?
ANDREW NIELSON: Well I wouldn’t want to say too much over breakfast time for your listeners, but prisons generally and women can be very inventive in how they find ways to self-harm. It will involve using bedding for example to attempt to strangle themselves. It will also involve blades of various kinds. It’s not pleasant, and it’s a terrible problem for the prison to deal with. And in a sense, while Peterborough may top the table, I have a lot of sympathy for any staff working with these women, because I think they shouldn’t be working with them in the first place. They aren’t equipped or trained, in that very short period of time that they will hold the women in the prison, to really offer them much meaningful help.
PAUL STAINTON: Andrew, thank you for coming on this morning. Appreciate that. Andrew Nielson Director of Campaigns at the Howard League For Penal Reform. The Prison Service didn’t want to speak to us this morning, but did send us a statement. They said “we’re committed to open and transparent reporting of data relating to deaths in custody, self-harm and assaults. Prisons take the responsibility for keeping prisoners staff and visitors safe extremely seriously.”

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More information about the Dawn Project.

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17:07 Friday 26th April 2013
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: Why are so many inmates at one of our local jails deliberately harming themselves in huge numbers? Is profit being put before health at Peterborough Prison? Shocking new figures reveal it is the worst prison in the country for self-harming by prisoners, with 50% more incidents than at any other. Peterborough is a private prison for both men and women, so is enough being done by the private firm that runs it to look after the health of the prisoners? We asked the Ministry of Justice to appear on this programme to discuss the issue. They refused. Well let’s bring in a spokesman for the people who work there. Glyn Travis is from the Prison Officers’ Association. Glyn, hello to you.
GLYN TRAVIS: Good evening.
CHRIS MANN: What do you think’s going on?
GLYN TRAVIS: Well it’s difficult, because when any prisoner, when any offender commits an act of self-harm, it’s always very very traumatic for the individual, it’s traumatic for the family and friends of that person, and it’s also traumatic for the staff. And these figures are very very damning, and our concern is the fact that it’s a private company actually putting profit before health. And I think your headline sums it up that that is a concern. Public sector prisons faced similar problems, especially in the female estate, and thankfully, through the Ministry of Justice, the public sector prisons actually addressed the issue, drilling down into the data and finding out what was the underlying problem, and heavily invested in safety, security and safe systems, to try and support offenders who were obviously extremely vulnerable. This doesn’t seem to have been the case at Peterborough, and we’re obviously now looking for the Ministry of Justice and for NOMS, the National Offender Management Services, to ensure that the private company puts in place systems that will assist people there.
CHRIS MANN: The top five, if you can call it that, should be the bottom five I suppose, worst prisons for self-harm in 2012, there are four prisons that I don’t actually know personally, but Foston Hall, Altcourse, Bronzefield and Eastwood Park. They’ve all got around 800 incidents each. Peterborough, which tops this unfortunate table, has 1256 incidents. So as I said, 50% more than the others. That shows, surely, clearly, that there is a problem.
GLYN TRAVIS: Absolutely. You cannot get away from the raw data that’s there. There is a major major problem. And what we’ve got to look at is what is the private company doing. They simply just should not be allowed to just sit on there and say it’s something that’s unavoidable. They need to put in place new systems. They need to have additional resources. They need to spend their profits to ensure that the people that they’re being paid to look after by the State, by the taxpayer, by the people in your area, that they are there. And they’ve also got to make sure that the staff are safe, as well as the other prisoners.
CHRIS MANN: Is there a problem with the staff there?
GLYN TRAVIS: No I don’t think there is. I think this is an issue which is something which is not uncommon in the system. Our concern is that the five jails that you’ve talked about there, three of them are private. So that does say there’s an issue. The other two are both female estates, and we know we have a problem in the female estate, for a variety of reasons in the public service. And as I said the public services have done well, because they’ve reduced the number of self-harms in female estates by about 50%.
CHRIS MANN: The Howard League for Penal Reform gave me the figures earlier on. Women represent just one in twenty people in prison, but they make up half of all self-harm incidents in custody.
GLYN TRAVIS: That’s true. It’s a damning statistic. And as I said we know the problems that we face every day when we go to work and deal with these type of incidents. And the only way that you can deal with it, as I said at the start of this, is by drilling down and finding out what the underlying problem is. Is it staff shortages? Is it the environment? Is it the fact that there’s no through .. (UNCLEAR)? And this is what the private company have to do, and they have to address it. And we should be calling on the local MP and the Ministry of Justice to make sure that there is a safe prison at Peterborough. And if it’s not, and if this continues, this trend continues, then the Ministry of Justice need to look at whether that contract should be left with the private company or actually put back into public ownership.
CHRIS MANN: We asked the local MP Stewart Jackson to come on the programme tonight. He apparently is holding a surgery, and wasn’t able to do it. But we also asked, as we said, we asked the Minister of Justice and the Prison Service to come on. They didn’t want to speak to us, but they sent a statement in which they say “there’s a zero-tolerance approach to violence. We have systems in place to deal with perpetrators. The prison assault rate has fallen. We’re committed to open transparent recording of date. It remains a priority to reduce the number of deaths and violence in custody. Strenuous efforts are made to learn from each death and injury and improve our prisons.” That doesn’t answer the individual problems at Peterborough though, does it?
GLYN TRAVIS: No it doesn’t. That’s what I say. It is a real problem. That’s a policy statement that’s full of words.
CHRIS MANN: It could have been written about anywhere frankly.
GLYN TRAVIS: Yes. Absolutely.
CHRIS MANN: Peterborough is a big prison that holds both men and women. So is it actually suitable, given we’ve heard about the problem of women, is it suitable to hold women?
GLYN TRAVIS: Yes it is. In theory, yes it should be suitable. Unfortunately I’ve got to be honest with you I think it has got some real serious issues there. As I say I do believe it’s about profit before care. I think that’s something that has to be addressed. It is a suitable prison. It is fit for purpose. It does what it says on the tin and keeps people in custody and protects the public. Unfortunately what it’s not doing is ensuring that the people who are in that prison are free from self-harm. And that’s a real worrying issue that needs to be addressed.
CHRIS MANN: Glyn Travis, thank you for joining us. From the Prison Officers’ Association, reacting there to the news that Peterborough Prison has been named as the country’s worst prison for self-harm incidents during 2012.

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