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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Our prisons continue to get more violent

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Latest prison safety statistics confirm all time highs for self-harm and assaults - yet again. The term "prison crisis" seems increasingly inadequate.

Double digit rises in self-harm and assaults

Worst figures ever – yet again

The latest safety in Custody statistics bulletin published last Thursday (26 April 2018) confirm the deteriorating state of our prisons which shows no sign of reversing despite the MoJ’s success in increasing staffing levels by more than 2,500 frontline staff. The figures cover deaths in prison custody for the year to March 2018 and assaults and self-harm for the year to December2017.

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

Despite a sizeable decrease in the number of suicides (down from 115 to 69, although this figure itself is likely to be revised upwards with 57 deaths waiting further information before being classified), incidents of self-harm, assaults on staff and on prisoners all reached highest ever levels.

 

Deaths

In the 12 months to March 2018, there were 299 deaths in prison custody, a decrease of 13% from 344 in the previous year, at a rate of 3.5 deaths per 1,000 prisoners. The most recent quarter saw the number of deaths increase to 85, up 3 from the three months to December 2017. Quarterly death figures should be considered with caution due to greater volatility and the potential for seasonal effects. Long-term trends and more detail are presented in annual tables.
There were 69 apparent self-inflicted deaths, down 40% from 115 in the previous year. On a rate basis this is 0.8 instances per 1,000 prisoners. Within the female estate, there was 1 self-inflicted death at a rate of 0.3 per 1,000 prisoners, down from 10 incidents in the previous 12 months. There were 5 apparent homicides, an increase of 2 from the previous year. Homicides in prison custody remain relatively rare, accounting for around 1% of all deaths over the last ten years.
There were 168 deaths due to natural causes, a decrease of 18% from 204 in the previous year. Natural-cause deaths were at a rate of 2.0 per 1,000 prisoners.

Self-harm

In the 12 months to December 2017, there were 44,651 reported incidents of self-harm (a rate of 521 per 1,000 prisoners), up 11% from the previous year. The number of self-harm incidents requiring hospital attendance increased by 12% to 3,067. The proportion of incidents that required hospital attendance remained largely unchanged at 6.9%.
The number of prisoners who self-harmed in the 12 months to December 2017 was 11,630 (a rate of 136 prisoners per 1,000), up 6% from the previous year, and the highest figure in the time series.

Assaults

There were 21,270 prisoner-on-prisoner assaults in the 12 months to December 2017 (a rate of 248 per 1,000 prisoners), up 11% from the previous year, and a new record high. The latest quarter saw 5,579 incidents, a decrease of 2% from the previous period.

There were 8,429 assaults on staff in the 12 months to December 2017 (a rate of 98 per 1,000 prisoners), up 23% from the previous year. This is the highest level in the time series. In the latest quarter, staff assaults increased by 5% to a new record high of 2,327 incidents. There has been a change in how staff assaults have been recorded. This has simplified how incidents involving staff are identified, however it is possible this has increased the recording of incidents.

In the 12 months to December 2017, there were 3,856 serious assaults, up 10% from the previous year. Of these, 3,029 (or 79%) were serious prisoner-on-prisoner assaults, an increase of 10% in the number of incidents from the previous year. Over the same period, there were 864 serious assaults on staff, up 10% from the previous period. All of these figures are the highest in the respective time series.

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