Escalating self-harm since lockdown in Europe’s largest women’s prison

In spite of many positive aspects of the HMP Bronzefield’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic it has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in incidents of self-harm.

In its 2019- 20 annual report published today, the Bronzefield IMB notes positively that:

  • Prisoners are treated fairly and humanely at Bronzefield.
  • Many prisoners have expressed their gratitude for the prison’s efforts in keeping them safe during the pandemic.

However, in spite of only one COVID-19 positive prisoner early in the pandemic, a national prison service directive resulted in prisoners continuing to be locked in their cells 23 hours a day with no work or purposeful activity. The cost to mental health is reflected in an increase in the monthly incidents of self harm to 261 in July 2020, compared to a monthly average of 141 in the year to July 2019.

A repeat survey highlighted, once again, that approximately 60% of women are discharged from Bronzefield homeless.

The IMB observed that the demands of the healthcare unit were at times excessive owing to the numbers of prisoners needing the facility due to their severe and complex mental health issues.

IMB Bronzefield Chair, Alison Keightley, said: “The whole of the Bronzefield staff came together impressively, and worked successfully, in keeping prisoners physically safe from COVID-19. In spite of their best efforts the cost of keeping prisoners locked in their cells for 23 hours a day for several months is reflected in a worrying increase in the levels of self-harm. Meanwhile serious issues that predate the pandemic show no improvement: in particular, the levels of homelessness on release and the pressures on the healthcare facility resulting from the high number of prisoners with complex needs’’.