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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Latest prison safety statistics confirm crisis situation

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Latest prison safety statistics confirm all time highs for self-harm and assaults - again. The term crisis is beginning to seem an inadequate description.

Worst figures ever – again

The latest safety in Custody statistics bulletin published last Thursday (27 July 2017) confirm the dire picture of prison safety revealed by the Chief Inspector of Prisons in his annual report earlier in the month. The figures cover deaths in prison custody for the year to June 2017 and assaults and self-harm for the year to March 2017.

As you can see from the main points reproduced below, all the key indicators are at extremely worrying levels.

It is clear that staff recruitment is yet to have any impact. Even the small dip in prisoner on prisoner assaults recorded in the previous quarter has been reversed in the latest statistics. Serious assaults on staff have trebled  since 2013; increasing by 5% in the latest quarter to reach yet in another dispiriting record high.


Self-harm trends differ considerably by gender, with a rate of 409 incidents per 1,000 in male establishments (with incidents up 24% on the previous year) compared to a rate of 1,835 per 1,000 in female establishments (a reduction of 8% in number of incidents from the previous year). After five years of stability in the rate of self-harm among males, there has been an increase from 3.0 to 3.4 incidents per self-harming male in the most recent period.

In contrast, the self-harm rate among females has fallen from 6.7 to 6.2 incidents per self-harming female.

Self-harm incidents requiring hospital attendance increased from the previous year in male establishments by 14% to 2,616, while female establishments saw a decrease of 1% to 155 incidents. The proportion of self-harm incidents requiring hospital attendance remained relatively stable at 6.9% to March 2017, compared to 7.1% in the previous year. The slight decrease is due to the fact that the total number of self-harm incidents rose at a higher rate than the number of incidents requiring hospital attendance.

While self-harmers in female establishments were roughly twice as prolific as those in male establishments, self-harmers in male establishments had slightly less than four times the proportion of self-harm incidents that require hospitalisation (7.9% in male establishments compared to 2.2% in female establishments).

Serious assaults

Serious assaults are those which fall into one or more of the following categories: a sexual assault, requires detention in outside hospital as an in-patient; requires medical treatment for concussion or internal injuries; or incurs any of the following injuries: a fracture, scald or burn, stabbing, crushing, extensive or multiple bruising, black eye, broken nose, lost or broken tooth, cuts requiring suturing, bites, temporary or permanent blindness.

Report card

In the prison annual performance ratings published on the same day, 10 prisons were rated “overall performance is of serious concern”


It is hard not to repeat the Chief Inspector’s verdict that without a significant improvement in prison safety, reform seems all but impossible.


All prison posts are kindly sponsored by Prison Consultants Limited who offer a complete service from arrest to release for anyone facing prison and their family. Prison Consultants have no editorial influence on the contents of this site.

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