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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Prison safety reaches new low

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October 2016 Ministry of Justice Safety in Custody statistics show an unrelenting and rapid increase in the numbers of suicides, assaults and self-harm

Grim reading

Even to those of us becoming inured to stories of the ever-growing tide of violence in our prisons, last Thursday’s (27 October 2016) Safety in Custody Statistics Bulletin from the Ministry of Justice make grim reading.

Covering deaths in custody for the year up to September 2016 and assaults and self-harm up to June 2016, the statistics tell starkly about a prison system out of control.

I share the headline findings below.

Deaths in custody

There were 324 deaths in prison custody in the last year, an increase of 57 (21%) compared to the previous year.

Self-inflicted deaths increased from 95 to 107, a 13% rise

Eight women prisoners killed themselves – double last year’s total of four




Incidents of self-harm increased by 7,509 (26%) to 36,440 compared to the previous year

The number of individual prisoners harming themselves rose by 1,943 (23%) to 10,544 with individual harming themselves an average of 3.5 times, resulting in 2,583 hospital attendances



In the 12 months to June 2016 there were 23,775 assault incidents, an increase of 6,078 incidents (34%) from the same period of the previous year

There were 3,134 serious assaults, up 26% from the previous year

Prisoner on prisoner assaults were up 32% to 17,782

There were 2,462 serious prisoner on prisoner assaults, a rise of 28%

Assaults on staff were up by 43% to 5,954

Serious staff assaults rose 20% to 697




As you can see from the graphs above, these figures are not only appalling for this year but are the worst in recent history.

Of particular concern is the continuous rise of self-harm amongst male prisoners for the last six years and a relentless increase in the number of assaults over the last four years.

Although reductions in the numbers of staff are clearly the most important component, they cannot alone explain such significant rises.

The government’s White Paper on prison reform — rumoured to be published this Thursday 3 November — will be assessed in the light of these disturbing figures.

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