Self-inflicted Deaths in Custody Amongst 18-24 Year Olds: Staff Experience, Knowledge and Views

Sunshine shining in prison cell window

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To inform Lord Harris’s Review into Self-inflicted Deaths (SID) amongst 18-24 year olds held in National Offender Management Service custody, RAND Europe in partnership with the Prisons Research Centre and Faculty of Law at the University of Cambridge were commissioned to study staff experience, knowledge and views relating to the identification, management and prevention of self-inflicted deaths (SID) in prison.


The research team was asked to examine staff understandings and experiences of self-inflicted death among young prisoners, with a view to better understanding how more deaths could be prevented. In fieldwork to gather the views among individual prison staff members, the research team conducted formal interviews, focus groups, and intensive participant observation across five prisons, including both private and public establishments, across England and Wales.


This research was used to support Lord Harris’s final report, and is also available as a stand-alone document. The key findings of this research include the following:

The ways in which prison staff understood risk of SID was related to whether or not they believed they could prevent deaths in custody. Staff who saw risk of suicide and self-harm as related to the prison environment rather than just individual prisoner characteristics expressed more empowered views on their ability to prevent deaths.

Prison staff universally identified staff-prisoner relationships as the key to identifying and managing risk. There was strong agreement that staff capacity to form and sustain high-quality staff–prisoner relationships supported SID prevention. Staff also reported that the ability to identify prisoners at risk and taking the time to develop trust with them had been adversely affected by budgetary pressures and the increasing trend toward paper-based methods of management.

There was strong consensus among interviewees about the importance of work experience to their ability to identify and manage SID risks but staff welcomed more and improved training. Although many prison staff cited experience-based knowledge and expertise (‘jailcraft’) as more important than training for identifying and managing SID risks, some staff, particularly those with specialist roles, emphasised the (potential) importance of training in equipping them with the necessary skills to prevent deaths in custody.