Irish Penal Reform Trust

High levels of self-harm in prisons underscores need for alternative interventions – IPRT

13th April 2021

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) welcomes the overall decrease in the number of recorded cases of self-harm in prisons in Ireland in 2019. However, the rates of self-harm among female prisoners and people held on remand continued to rise. This is concerning and underscores the urgent need for alternative interventions, including increased use of community-based sanctions; integrated community sentences; adequately resourced mental health services and trauma-informed models of care, both in prison and in the community.

Better prison conditions, increased out-of-cell time, consistent access to education and workshops, timely access to drug treatment, and strengthened family contact are all necessary to further support reductions in self-harm incidents in prison.

IPRT was responding to the third annual report from the Irish Prison Service Self-Harm Assessment and Data Analysis (SADA) Project, published today (13.04.2021). The report details information relating to recorded instances of self-harm in Irish prisons during 2019.

On publication of the report, IPRT reiterates the importance of the recently established cross-departmental Taskforce to consider the mental health and addiction challenges of persons interacting with the criminal justice system, as well the need to recommence prison psychology services on at least their pre-COVID schedule as a matter of urgency.

IPRT Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide stated:

“Prison is a stressful environment and can be highly distressing for people with mental health issues. The high rates of self-harm in prison underscore the need for increased use of alternatives, such as community-based sanctions and integrated community sentences, along with adequately resourced mental health services and trauma-informed models of care in prison.

Responding to the statistic that self-harm rates are 8.2 times higher for female prisoners than for male prisoners, she continued:

“It is both shocking and unsurprising that the rates of self-harm among female prisoners are so high. We know that the prevalence of mental illness, addictions and trauma is much higher among women in prison, and still the Courts persist in sending too many women to prison on remand and on short sentences. We have to do more to break the cycle of poverty and imprisonment for these women.

“Each year, the gap between the recorded rates of self-harm among women compared to men is increasingly pronounced. While we strongly support the collection and publication of this data, we are also clear that this data needs to be utilised to influence policy and practice. We understand that a new model of intervention is hoped to be in place by the second quarter of 2021. This should include targeted interventions designed specifically to meet the distinct needs of women in prison.”

While the data captured in this report relate to a period before the imposition of COVID-19 related restrictions in prisons, research has shown that periods of isolation during the pandemic have severely impacted the mental health of people in prison. This, paired with a reduction in the provision of psychology and addiction services in prison during the pandemic, is particularly concerning given the already high rates of mental illness among the prison population. Publication of the 2020 report on self-harm is urgently needed to support evidence-based decisions on restrictions in prisons as the pandemic response continues.

Yesterday (12.04.2021), IPRT published a new briefing outlining actions that now need to be taken in the justice system one year into the COVID-19 response, including measures to mitigate the negative consequences of isolation on the mental health of men and women in prison.


For all media enquires or to arrange interview with an IPRT spokesperson, contact Pamela: +353 (0) 86 043 3060 or


  1. IPRT was responding to ‘Self-harm in Irish Prisons 2019: Third report from the Self-Harm Assessment and Data Analysis (SADA) Project’ available at
  2. Key findings include: episodes of self-harm have fallen by 25% compared to 2018; the rate of female self-harm was 8.2 times higher than the rate among males; over one third (33.9%) of individuals engaged in self-harm more than once during the year; the rate of self-harm among prisoners on remand was 2.5 times higher than the comparable rate for sentenced prisoners (5.7 per 100 versus 2.3 per 100); the rate of people requiring hospital treatment increased from 1 in 8 (2018) to 1 in 7 (2019).
  3. IPRT’s recent briefing (published Monday 12th April) details learnings from the COVID-19 response in prisons and outlines actions required now and into the future. The briefing covers issues such as: mental health, quarantine conditions, access to regimes and services, family visits, and accountability.
  4. The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy.

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



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