More dedicated units to hold vulnerable women prisoners during their first 48 hours in custody could help reduce self-harm and suicide, according to a report published by the Howard League for Penal Reform today.
It recommends that the units, known as first night centres, should offer support and “less harsh” furnishing than normal prison accommodation to ease the impact of imprisonment and allow women contact with families and children.
The report argues that such units, which have already been developed in Holloway and Styal prisons, are particularly important for women prisoners with high levels of mental illness, substance misuse and histories of abuse. It also recommends rolling out the units to men’s prisons.
Currently, around half of suicides in prisons occur in the first month of imprisonment.
Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said first night centres played a “critical” role in keeping women safe.
She added: “We want to ensure that each prison receiving women directly from court is properly resourced to provide a dedicated first night centre. First night in custody centres can only ever mitigate, not prevent women from taking their own lives in prison and courts still have to recognise the danger of sending women to prison.”