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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Our prisons keep getting more violent

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Latest (October 2017) prison safety figures continue to shock with the highest recorded levels of self-harm and assaults ever recorded.

Highest number of assaults on record

Thursday’s (26 October 2017) Safety in Custody Statistics make for predictably grim reading with self harm and assaults reaching record highs.

The only glimmer of hope is that HMPPS focus on suicides has seen a drop in the number of prisoners killing themselves. Tragically, there were still 77 suicides last year (compared to 110 the previous year).

The latest figures cover deaths for the year to September 2017 and assaults and self harm for the year to June 2017.

Here are the main points:

Deaths in prison

In the 12 months to September 2017 there were 300 deaths in prison custody, a decrease of 7% from 324 in the previous year, at a rate of 3.5 deaths per 1,000 prisoners. The most recent quarter saw the lowest number of total deaths since the three months to December 2015. Quarterly death figures should be considered with caution due to greater volatility and the potential for seasonal effects.

There were 77 apparent self-inflicted deaths, down 30% from 110 in the previous year.


In the 12 months to June 2017, there were 41,103 reported incidents of self-harm (a rate of 482 per 1,000 prisoners), up 12% on the previous year. The number of self-harm incidents requiring hospital attendance increased by 9% on the previous year to 2,833 while the proportion of incidents that required hospital attendance remained broadly similar at 6.9%. The number of self-harm incidents and those requiring hospital attendance are both the highest ever recorded.


In the 12 months to June 2017, there were 27,193 assault incidents (a staggering rate of 319 incidents per 1,000 prisoners), an increase of 14% on the previous year, and the highest level in the time series. In the latest quarter, there were 7,115 assaults, up 6% from the three months to March 2017.

There were 19,678 prisoner-on-prisoner assaults in the 12 months to June 2017 (a rate of 231 per 1,000 prisoners), up 10% on the previous year, and a record high. The latest quarter also saw a 7% increase in the number of incidents, reaching a record high of 5,155.

Assaults on staff reached a record high of 7,437 in the 12 months to June 2017 (a rate of 87 per 1,000 prisoners), and are up 25% on the previous year. In the most recent quarter, assaults on staff rose by 9%, reaching a record high of 2,011 incidents.


Not only are these figures shocking in themselves, they remain (in my opinion) the best barometer of the overall state of our prison system. Only when we see a prolonged trend in the fall of self-harm and assaults will we be able to feel confident that our prisons are beginning to become a more acceptable place for prisoners to live and staff to work.


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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