Archive for January, 2013

Young Prisoners Battle With Self Harm And Self Injury

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

In 2009 Rob Allen published an article on the Guardian website called Prison is no place for children. That statement still rings true today. He continues to say that “The prison inspectorate’s disturbing report of the culture of violence and fear in Cookham Wood Young Offender Institution (YOI) prompts serious questions about whether prisons should continue to accommodate children under 18.”

Another key issue which affects many young people in prisons is self harm and self injure. The number of young people who self harm is becoming more apparent. Recent research suggests that 10 per cent of 15 to 16 year olds have self harmed at some stage in their lives.

In 2003 there were 16,393 cases of self-harm in prisons in England and Wales but the number has since increased to 22, 459 cases according to The Howard League for Penal Reform, which is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.

Feltham prison, in Middlesex, is one of the biggest prisons for children and young people in the whole of Europe. Frances Crook, Chief Executive of The Howard League for Penal Reform recently expressed her concerns about young people’s self harm and self injure behaviours in prisons. She expressed her concerns about young prisoners who self harm as coming from appalling backgrounds, e.g. homelessness, having abusive parents or engaging in prostitution, and self loathing. Self injury on the other hand, comes in all forms including; cutting, swallowing, hair pulling and also taking cocktails of drugs. The conditions and prison environment in itself do not help their situations and lends itself to create an environment where suicide, self harm and self injure can flourish without young offenders receiving appropriate self harm help.

Being in prison for anyone, let alone an adolescent, can be very lonely, distressing and disempowering! Harming themselves enables them to gain some element of control of themselves and their body. They may be driven by anger to self injure or self injure as an expression of their anger and to obtain some element of ‘release’.

Frances illustrated an example of a young prisoner who self injured by inserting objects many times; resulting in the young offender not being able to have children. Some people often assume those who self harm are inarticulate and uneducated individuals. However, self harm and self injure are generally done by people of all intelligence levels, ages and genders, who are in a high state of emotion and distress, hence it is vital that young people in prisons are assessed regularly as they are vulnerable and at risk of self injuring and equally vital that Prison Officers increase their level of self harm awareness in order to be able to provide relevant and adequate help for self harm.

The Howard League for Penal Reform sets out to achieve change in young people’s experiences in prisons and to improve the nature and situations of these establishments for young people.

The Relationship between Self Harm and Stigma

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Self injury or self harm, generally speaking, is a wider range of different things individuals do to themselves which is either in a deliberate or hidden way. It includes burning, cutting, banging the body against hard objects, pulling the hairs, scalding, biting, poisoning, and inserting or swallowing objects. However the harm is done, it still is damaging not only physically but also emotionally for both the person self harming and their loved ones.

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If young people self harm, they do so usually due to emotional pain and suffering, with the reasons varying for each specific individual. For some, it provides a way to deal with overwhelming emotions and helplessness. For others, it is also their way of shutting themselves off against the harsh world surrounding them and to prevent other people from getting in.


The main thing about self harm is that it is not a switch that can be turned on or off any time. Teenagers who self harm undergo periods where they feel that they are most vulnerable to self injury. Whilst it is dangerous and damaging, it provides, for most teenagers a means of coping with life’s difficulties and challenges. Friends, family and relatives of the young person should be mindful of this issue and talk with them. It is not advisable to take away his or her means of self harm and self harm help, as this can just increase the emotional anguish and can make the situation possibly worse. Discussing alternatives with them would be more fruitful and perhaps receiving some self harm training and awareness would assist you in doing so.


How Do People Stereotype Those Who self harm?

People who self harm are stereotyped in different ways. These include stereotypes around gender or race, or that self harm is just ‘cutting’ or that it’s only ‘goths’ who self harm.
Because evidences of certain aspect of self harm can be noticeable on the arms and the legs, others who are unaware of and lack understanding behind the need to self harm, may find it easy to stare, point at, react violently, and question the action. Some might see self harm as disgusting, unsightly and unbearable, however, little do they know that their judgmental actions can sometimes reduce an individual’s self esteem and could be a trigger him or her to do more injury to themselves.

When outsiders label people who self harm in a negative way, it makes them hide their scares even more so, because they do not want to be misjudged and have one more burden to carry. Young people can feel ashamed and guilty of their self harming behaviour, and all they need is positive self harm help.


At the end of the day, we all have ‘stuff’ going on at some time or other in our lives. Some people manager this better than others and many of us have unhealthy methods of doing so. Self harming is just one method that SOME people use to manage their emotional ‘stuff’!