It is common knowledge that many UK prisons have a self-harm problem...

But, just how big is this problem?

In 2013, across the UK, self-harm rates in our prisons were teetering just above 22,000, which is a large enough number.  In 2016, this had already shot up to over 39,000.  Then in 2018, this figure had reached over 55,000, but it gets worse…

In the 12 months leading up to June 2019, there were over 60,000 cases of self-harm reported in our prisons. 

Those numbers are huge, especially if we consider that the total prison population is between 83,000 and 84,000 at any one time, and although the figures above are ‘cases’ and not ‘amount of people’ it’s still an imposing number when the comparison is considered.

It seems that violence in general is growing, prisoner on prisoner attacks have gone up by 145% in 6 years, and cases of prisoners attacking staff have increased 200% in the same period.

Why are the numbers increasing so rapidly?

There are several factors to contribute to this growing violence within our prisons.  It seems the prison system is fighting against the tide somewhat, and there doesn’t seem to be a solution available until the problem has already hit… and then it becomes too late.

Drugs are a problem, and the government have recently put £26 million towards x ray body scanners, which are to be distributed around the most drug fuelled prisons, in order to tackle this issue.

Although the new ‘high tech’ scanners are deemed to be a ‘game changer’ when it comes to tackling the drug problem in our prisons, is it grasping the root of the issue, or just the affect or the true problem?

The root of the problem, we believe, is largely to do with the prisoner’s mental health.  Many of the inmates come from a lifestyle with some trauma involved, which is bound to have various impacts on their mental wellbeing. A report in 2017 showed that 26% of women, and 16% of men had received treatment for a mental health problem in the year before they were taken into custody.  One of the factors that have been shown in previous studies is that relationships, and maintaining family ties, has a positive influence on a prisoner’s mental wellbeing.

Those of us who are lucky enough to have a good family environment know that the support, guidance, and feeling of belonging which a family member can offer is powerful, and shouldn’t be underestimated.  Maintaining family relationships can often ‘humanise’ the inmate, and show them that they are more than just a prisoner, they are a mum/dad, husband/wife, son/daughter. It also reduces the re offending rate substantially, as the opportunity to maintain a role within the family means that they have a sense of purpose, within their role, to go back to when their sentence comes to an end.

Quite often ‘visit day’ is the staple of a prisoner’s calendar, and something that they can really focus on, and look forward to.  However, for inmates who have been moved to prisons outside of the area, which limits the ability for family to visit, there has been a negative effect on the prisoner in question.

This is where Purple Visits come in…

We know the benefits of maintaining good family relationships, and our mission is to improve the communication, and effectiveness of communication, between inmates and their families.  We are dedicated to providing a useful tool to assist prisons, and officers, in order to improve the mental well-being of inmates.  Once available, the benefits provided by our emotion recognition technology will consist of being able to detect, and therefore help prevent self- harm incidents within the UK prison system.