16th June 2006

A report by researchers at the Cambridge Institute of Criminology Prisons Research Centre in England demonstrates how maintaining family ties and contact during imprisonment can help prevent suicide and self harm among offenders. The research, entitled An Evaluation of the Safer Locals Programme, was carried out by Alison Liebling, Sarah Tait, Linda Durie, Annick Stiles and Joel Harvey, with the assistance of Gerry Rose. It underscores how family ties can act as a “protective factor” against suicide by reducing the level of distress among offenders. Distress was found to be statistically related to institutional suicide rates. The research also explored how conditions could be improved for both prisoners and prison staff. With respect to family contact, offenders cited making access easier, providing writing materials, allowing more time for phone calls, and having longer visits as important improvements.

The Safer Locals Programme was launched following an increase in prison suicides from 62 per year, or a rate of 127 per 100,000 prisoners in 1994, to 91, or a rate of 140 per 100,000 prisoners in 1999. The programme involved five pilot prisons.

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Author: rmchristen