HC Deb 25 July 1873 vol 217 cc995-6

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether any effectual measures have now been taken; and, if so, of what nature, with a view to diminish the large number of serious accidents and self-mutilations recently reported from Chatham Convict Prison?


Sir, considering the humane and considerate disposition of the hon. Member, I was very much surprised not to receive any Notice of this Question till I saw it this morning in the Paper. I immediately wrote to the Directors of Convict Prisons, and have been furnished with the following Memorandum on the subject of the Question, which, as it contains important information, I will read to the hon. Member. It is dated the 25th of July, and states that very minute and careful inquiries have been made into the subject of the self-mutilations at Chatham Prison, with a view to ascertaining whether they could be ascribed to anything in the treatment or management of the prisoners which called for correction. It is probable that some exaggerated ideas have arisen from the application of the word "mutilation," which conveys the idea of some permanent loss of limb or other injury, to eases of a very much slighter character, to which the word "contusion" would more properly apply. The following is an extract from the Report of the Medical Officer for the year ending December, 1872:— Contusions and injuries have been reduced from 487 to 358; of the fractures 27 have been purposely produced, 16 requiring immediate amputation. The amputations altogether amounted to 34, which were successful with one exception, when the prisoner died on the eighth day from gangrene of the leg above the amputation. Of the 358 injuries above mentioned, 163 were wilful; all terminated favourably, though some were attended with danger to life from the extensive inflammation which followed. Of the 163 cases of wilful injury during the year, 101 were the creation of sores and the introduction of foreign bodies under the skin, and 62 were actual mutilation or attempted mutilation. Of the 62, there were 36 during the first half of the year, and only 26 during the latter half, thus showing a marked decrease in this description of injury; and of the total 62 cases the majority—namely, 43—were ineffectual, and only 9 can be described as really serious cases. But during the last few months the practice of self-mutilations has so decreased as to have almost entirely disappeared. In fact, since the 15th of March, there have been only four cases of mutilation, and four of contusions producing no permanent injury, and only one since the 10th of May. There can be no doubt that a very large proportion of these acts are committed for the purpose of evading labour; and only those who are familiar with this class of men are aware of the extent to which malingering to avoid work or service is carried. In the Army it is equally common; and an epidemic of this sort once prevailed in the French Army. Self-infliction of injuries is merely one form of malingering which, in recent years, seems to have become the vogue among the convicts at Chatham. The steps taken to put an end to these practices have been—(1), to remove from the men any facilities for committing the acts which were most common—namely, pro-clueing fractures or contusions with the trucks or engines; (2), letting it be clearly understood that severe punishment would follow any such acts; and (3), pointing out clearly and considerately to those who had suffered from them the uselessness, and, at the same time, the unreasonableness, of what they had done. The result of these steps has been that acts of this kind have now become rare, and persistence in the same course will, it is believed, put an end to it almost entirely.