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How going from care to prison compounds women’s trauma – new research

Writer : Claire Fitzpatrick, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Lancaster College

Within the 12 months to June 2021, for each 1,000 girls in custody in England and Wales, 3,808 incidents of self-harm had been recorded. This represented a surprising enhance of 16% on the earlier 12 months. Between March 2007 and March 2018, 37 girls in jail took their very own lives.

Proof means that the hyperlink between self-harm and suicide is stronger in prisons than within the wider neighborhood. For a latest examine we performed interviews with 37 girls in three closed prisons in England between September 2019 and February 2020. A key intention of our analysis was to amplify girls’s voices. Self-harm was not a problem we had got down to discover on this examine, but it surely was a subject that many however selected to share.

Our findings present that having prior expertise of residing in care can present essential context for understanding why some girls in jail may self-harm. All the ladies we spoke with had expertise of the care system earlier than going to jail. Self-harm was raised as a key situation by some.

Unmet wants

Ladies who’ve been by way of the care system are over-represented in prisons in England. Whereas there are challenges in acquiring correct knowledge, estimates counsel that 31% of feminine prisoners (in comparison with 24% of imprisoned males) hung out within the care of the state as youngsters.

That is, in fact, not inevitable. Many care leavers go on to do very effectively when appropriately supported. However a major minority do come into contact with the justice system, with difficult behaviour corresponding to minor harm to property nonetheless extra more likely to be criminalised in some care settings than for these residing at residence with their start households. That is typically compounded by the stigma hooked up to being in care. Unfavorable attitudes assume some care leavers will inevitably be troublesome.

Most of the girls we interviewed described backgrounds of abuse and neglect and being taken into care for his or her welfare and safety. As one interviewee, Mandy, defined:

I used to be a traumatic baby … very, very uncontrolled … I didn’t know ask for assist. As a result of within the care system I used to be by no means proven all that.

For some, self-harm grew to become a manner of speaking their trauma. A number of described harming themselves as a manner of assuaging psychological ache. In probably the most extreme circumstances, for these girls who tried to take their very own lives, it grew to become an try to finish that ache.

A woman with a clipboard holds another woman's hands in a therapy setting.
Ladies describe having issue accessing psychological well being assist and medicine when arriving in jail.
fizkes | Shutterstock

Systemic failure

There was an inclination for analysis to concentrate on the non-public components which may lead a person to self-harm. Analysis on the sociology of punishment, nevertheless, has highlighted how self-injury could also be linked to the painful experiences of imprisonment for some girls, corresponding to separation from family members.

Our personal analysis attracts consideration to what’s missing within the techniques designed to assist these girls. Ladies described delays in accessing treatment on entry to jail and in acquiring psychological well being appointments, amongst different challenges. Not feeling listened to in care was a typical theme typically repeated in jail. As Leanne put it:

There’s lots of self-harm on this jail, lots. As a result of they don’t really feel heard … they don’t get handled in the proper method. They simply get locked away and … labelled.

For some, experiences of the jail system echoed experiences the ladies described from their time in care, which was typically characterised by instability and an absence of assist. Their psychological well being wants went unmet – they had been incessantly moved from placement to placement.

For girls who had been beforehand within the care of the state as youngsters, entry to psychological well being assist is essential, as is ensuring that those that go away care are not deserted. Extra broadly, our findings elevate severe questions on how we, as a society, use imprisonment as a punitive measure for these girls.

Whereas there are ongoing efforts to determine and enhance the assist out there to those that have gone from care to jail, analysis additionally exhibits the potential of neighborhood sentences, corresponding to deferred prosecution schemes, to be credible, cost-effective options to custody that keep away from the trauma of imprisonment. Even higher, nevertheless, is to make sure that youngsters in care obtain all of the assist they want. This may assist to stop those that have been in care from being unnecessarily criminalised within the first place.

All names have been modified to guard the identification of the contributors. In case you are affected by any of the problems on this piece, please contemplate speaking to somebody. The Samaritans helpline – 116 123 – is out there 24 hours a day.

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