Being in prison can be a very difficult time for some people who may find it hard to adjust to the restrictions and regimes of the prison system. Some prisoners may feel that their problems are magnified and possibly more than they feel they can cope with.

Sometimes a prisoner may feel so desperate that they may feel like harming themselves and it is important that they get the help and support they need to see them through the bad times.

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is a way that some people express their distress. It is often a way of communicating what someone feels they cannot express in words, or even in thought. People who self-harm may injure themselves by cutting or burning their skin, by hitting themselves against objects or by taking a drug overdose. Afterwards, the person may feel better able to deal with their situation for a short time.

Who may be particularly vulnerable?

  • Those new to the prison system
  • The recently bereaved
  • People who have recently suffered a broken relationship
  • Substance misusers
  • Anyone with a previous history of harming themselves or attempting suicide

What signs could you look for?

The family or friends of a prisoner can usually be the first people to identify that there is something wrong with the prisoner by noticing a change in mood or a lack of interest in something they might normally take pleasure from. The prisoner may even disclose feelings of self harm or suicide and if they do then it is vital that the prison is informed as soon as possible so that they can ensure the wellbeing of the prisoner.

  • The prisoner may be unusually quiet, uninterested in things or have withdrawn into themselves
  • They may have a disregard for their appearance and personal hygiene
  • They might display different emotions for example anger, despair or hopelessness
  • They might feel isolated and lonely
  • They might be showing difficulty in adjusting to their situation
  • They might express a wish to die

How can I let the prison know my concerns?

This can be done by:

  • Telephoning the prison and asking to speak to the Safer Custody Team or the Duty Governor 
  • Speaking to a member of staff on visits whilst at the prison
  • Speaking to a member of the Visitors Centre staff who will speak to the prison on your behalf


Some prisons run confidential ‘at-risk hotlines’ where you can leave a message on an answer machine explaining your concerns. These will be advertised when you visit the prison or ask a member of staff.

What will happen if I tell the prison?

Once the prison is aware that a prisoner is at risk of self-harm or suicide then they will closely monitor the individual and support him/her until the situation changes.

What help is available in prison?

To help identify and care for prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm, the Prison Service uses a care planning system called ACCT (Assessment, Care in Custody, and Teamwork). ACCT allows the prison to monitor the prisoner closely, engaging them in planning ways of reducing their problems and helping them to build up their own sources of support.

Prisoners are fully involved in the ACCT process. They will have an interview with a trained assessor, from which an individual care plan is drawn up. They then attend regular case reviews, where a Case Manager reviews the care and support they receive.

The care plan will address the problems that are causing the prisoner pain and leading them to self-harm or attempt suicide and also find ways of meeting the prisoner’s needs without the need for self-harming. The care plan will also look at linking the prisoner with other forms of support and help within the prison, for example the Mental Health or Reach Teams.

Who else can a prisoner talk to?

Other support options available within the prison estate include counselling, access to the Samaritans (24 hours a day by telephone), help with substance misuse issues and access to the chaplaincy and/or healthcare professionals.

Who can I talk to?

If you feel you would like to talk to someone about your own feelings, you can ring the Samaritans either at your local branch or on their national number 116 123 at any time of the day or night.

Alternatively you can call us on 0808 808 2003 Monday-Friday 9.00am-8.00pm and Saturday-Sunday 10.00am-3.00pm.