Deliberate self-harm in sentenced male prisoners in England and Wales: some ethnic factors




The identification of risk factors for deliberate self-harm (DSH) in prison populations and the study of individual psychopathology in prisoners who harm themselves are both legitimate approaches to a difficult problem. This paper examines the life-time prevalence of DSH in male sentenced prisoners.


Inmates were selected at random from 25 male prison establishments; 1741 of a possible 1864 agreed to be studied. All subjects chose their own ethnic group. Prison files and medical records were examined. Each man was interviewed by a psychiatrist.


17% of men reported DSH on a least one occasion during their life (more white than non-white prisoners). More white men in the medium and long-term sentence group than in the short-term sentence group gave a history of DSH. White prisoners seem more likely to have cut themselves than black prisoners. DSH was associated with alcohol dependence but not with drug addiction. Neurotic and personality disorders were more commonly diagnosed in the DSH group. There was a weak association between criminal violence and DSH, over the prisoners' lifetime.


The associations with DSH suggest that this phenomenon is a symptom of long-term personality problems and cannot be simply attributed to short-term environmental stress. Such problems are perhaps commoner in white prisoners than black ones. Does this provide a partial confirmation of the lower rates of personality disorder reported about black prisoners? Copyright © 2000 Whurr Publishers Ltd.