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Reducing the risk of prisoner self-harm and suicide in UK prisons with our Vulnerability Prediction Tool

We have developed and successfully deployed a unique and innovative ‘Vulnerability Prediction Tool’ (VPT) across the six UK prisons which we operate.

The new tool predicts a prisoner’s vulnerability by recognising departures from normal patterns of behaviour.  This change in behaviour and vulnerability is then highlighted to prison officers, allowing them to intervene and support the prisoner before they self-harm or attempt suicide.

The VPT works by tracking prisoners’ daily activities, such as mealtimes, family and legal visits, attending work and education. All these activities are routinely booked and stored in our Custodial Management System. The VPT makes this information visible by establishing ‘normal’ patterns of behaviour each and every prisoner and then constantly analysing the activities for changes.  It searches for prisoners who withdraw from normal behaviour and presents information about them to Serco prison officers in risk priority order.

Using the information from the VPT, our officers can explore and understand a prisoner’s risk profile, enabling early interventions before the prisoner becomes a risk to themselves. As soon as the vulnerability is confirmed, support mechanisms are mobilised to address the concerns.

Wyn Jones, Serco Custodial Operations Director, said: “The Vulnerability Prediction Tool is a simple but effective way of providing early warning that allows Officers to intervene and improves the chances of preventing a tragedy.

“It is very easy for a vulnerable prisoner to let their behaviour spiral out of control and it is impossible for prison officers to know each individual prisoner well enough to recognise when one of them withdraws from the regime.  Traditionally, therefore, prisoners are only recognised as being at risk and supported once they have threatened or attempted to commit suicide or self-harm.  We think this new tool can make a real difference.”