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RR3 Special Interest Group on Suicide and Self-harm

This RR3 Special Interest Group met twice in late 2016 to discuss how to provide effective care and support for people at risk of suicide and self-harm when entering prison, in prison and on release. The group explored the role and contribution of the voluntary sector in providing care, and the challenges and barriers to effective care and support.


The group makes the following recommendations to voluntary organisations, the Ministry of Justice and other relevant stakeholders:

  1. Resurrection not innovation
  2. Effective care and support is cost effective
  3. Every contact (and every relationship) counts
  4. Support is vital throughout a prisoner's journey
  5. Anyone can be 'at risk'
  6. Prison staff require better support
  7. Voluntary organisations are a key partner in keeping people safe
  8. Formal accountability is essential
  9. Governors should be given positive incentives

Download the report and full recommendations here.


In recent years, the rates both of suicide and incidents of self-harm in our prisons have risen significantly (Centre for Mental Health/Howard League, 2016). This problem is not new. The Harris Review into self-inflicted deaths in custody of 18-24 year olds, which reported in April 2015, stated that ‘our findings echo the criticisms and recommendations made consistently and repeatedly throughout the last fifteen years and more’.

Current developments make this an ideal opportunity to influence change. Safety in prisons is a key priority for the Secretary of State for Justice, Liz Truss. Under the prison reform agenda, governors in the reform prisons will have greater freedom, and accountability, for the regime and activities in their prisons. NHS England’s 2016 strategy Implementing the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health includes an objective to improve mental health pathways across secure and detained settings; and to deliver an overall reduction of 10% in the number of people taking their own lives through suicide prevention work.

Effective care and support for people at risk of suicide and self-harm in prison requires a whole-prison approach, developing a culture of compassion so that every relationship becomes an opportunity to support vulnerable prisoners. The voluntary sector can play a vital role in supporting this approach.

Meeting notes

Further reading

For further information on this topic, please see the following:
Centre for Mental Health with the Howard League for Penal Reform, 2016 - Preventing prison suicide
Harris Review, 2015 – Changing Prisons, Saving Lives 
Prison and Probation Ombudsman, 2016 – Learning from PPO Investigations: Prisoner Mental Health 
Centre for Mental Health, 2016 – Mental health and criminal justice
House of Commons Justice Select Committee, 2016 – Prison safety