Assessing the harm inside: a study contextualising boys' self-harm in custody
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AbstractConcerns about suicide and self-harm in English prisons are not new (Third report of the commissioners of prisons, 1880, cited in Liebling, 1992). However, a distinct system of intervention and custody for children (as established by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998) is relatively modern, and as such contextual studies about self-harm have largely, to date, overlooked children as a discrete group existing within a separate framework from adults. Similarly, large-scale research exploring self-harm among children in community settings has largely excluded the group of marginalised young people who come to the attention of youth justice services. This study presents a unique analysis of 181 youth justice assessments (‘Assets’) for boys who were remanded or sentenced to custody in under-18 Young Offender Institutions during 2014-15, tracing the subjects of the assessments from the communities they offended in through to a period in custody, using incident reports completed whilst they were there. What results is a contextual study examining the characteristics of the boys and their behaviour in custody. The study considers two central hypotheses: first, that to result in meaningful and supportive interventions, a definition of self-harm among the boys in the research sample often needs to include the harm they have done to their own lives (what the middle classes might call their ‘prospects’) through offending, and, second, that children who display the common traits of self-harming behaviour in custody may be identifiable by a different set of characteristics and needs from those who self-harm in the community. The author concludes that there is a previously undefined set of risk factors which can be applied to children who self-harm in custody for the first time, moving beyond the known risks associated with adolescent self-harm in the general population. Furthermore, it is found that boys who self-harm in custody are often oing so to exercise agency in an environment where they have very limited power, in circumstances defined not only by the restriction of liberty they are experiencing, but by the difficulties they experienced before coming to custody. Recommendations are made as to how policy-makers, through the current reforms to the youth justice system and a revised approach to assessments upon entry to custody, and practitioners, through increased awareness and improved recording of children’s views can more appropriately intervene in these boys’ lives to benefit them and society more widely.
CitationHarrison, P (2016) 'Assessing the harm inside: a study contextualising boys' self-harm in custody'. Professional Doctorate Thesis. University of Bedfordshire.
PublisherUniversity of Bedfordshire
TypeThesis or dissertation
DescriptionA thesis submitted to the University of Bedfordshire, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for a degree of Professional Doctorate in Leadership of Children’s and Youth Services
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