Prison suicide rate doubles in four years

Prison safety worsening rapidly

Earlier this week (26 Janaury 2017) the Ministry of Justice and Office of National Statistics published the latest Safety in Custody Statistics Bulletin, covering deaths in prison custody up to December 2016 and assaults and self-harm to September 2016.

The key findings make alarming reading:

Deaths in custody

In 2016 there were 354 deaths in prison custody, an increase of 38% compared to the previous year. This is both the highest number of deaths in the time series and the highest rate, at 4.1 deaths per 1,000 prisoners. The most recent quarter is not as high as the first two quarters of 2016, but is the third highest quarter on record, and is an increase on the previous quarter.

There were 119 apparent self-inflicted deaths, up 32% on the previous year, the highest on record. On a rate basis this is 1.4 per 1,000 prisoners, the highest in recent years, and double the rate in 2012, but at a similar level to the previous peak during 2002 and 2003. Within the female estate there were 12 self-inflicted deaths, the highest on record. This compares to 5 in 2015.

There were 3 apparent homicides in 2016, down from the record high of 8 in the previous year. Homicides in prison custody remain relatively rare, accounting for around 1% of all deaths over the last ten years.

There were 196 deaths due to natural causes, up 33% from the previous year. This is the highest in the time series. Natural cause deaths were at a rate of 2.3 per 1,000 prisoners, up from 1.7 per 1,000 in the previous year. This increase in natural cause deaths is largely explained by the ageing prison population, and is responsible for half of the year-on-year rise in deaths overall.


In the 12 months to September 2016 there were 37,784 reported incidents of self-harm (a rate of 443 per 1,000), up 23% on the previous year. This is the highest number of self-harm incidents in the time series, and the most recent quarter was the highest quarter on record. Of all self-harm incidents in the 12 month period, 2,583 incidents required hospital attendance, up 25% on the previous year.

10,761 prisoners self-harmed (a rate of 126 prisoners per 1,000), up 19% from the previous year. Those that self-harmed did so, on average, 3.5 times.


In the 12 months to September 2016 there were 25,049 assault incidents (a rate of 293 incidents per 1,000 prisoners), an increase of 31% on the previous year, and is the highest in the last 10 years. Of these, 3,372 were serious assaults, up 28% on the previous year. Since 2012, serious assaults have more than doubled (2.6 times higher).


These statistics show very clearly how the surge in suicides, self-harm and assaults are associated closely with the reduction of resources and staffing levels. We must hope that the MoJ’s recruitment drive is successful and that higher staffing levels can start to reverse this alarming trend.



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