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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Our prison and probation systems keep getting more dangerous

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The new prison and probation safety statistics sadly show worst ever figures.

Prison & Probation safety stats

Thursday (25 October 2018) marked another low point in the ongoing prison and probation system crises.

The MoJ published both the latest quarterly safety in Custody statistics bulletin and the annual deaths of offenders in the community bulletin.

Both bulletins confirm the deteriorating state of our justice system which shows no sign of reversing.

Safety in custody

The prison figures cover deaths in prison custody for the year to September 2018 and assaults and self-harm for the year to June 2018. As you can see from the main points reproduced below, all the key indicators are at extremely worrying levels.

Homicides and suicides in prison both show increases on the previous year.  Incidents of self-harm, assaults on staff and on prisoners all reached their highest ever levels, yet again. Indeed over one in seven (14.3%) prisoners harmed themselves last year.

Deaths under probation supervision

In 2017/18, there were 955 deaths of offenders in the community, up 17% from 819 deaths in 2016/17. The main points are shown in the graphic below.

To my mind, the most worrying aspect of these figures (as well as the big rise in the overall number of deaths), is the very high percentage of self-inflicted deaths. 

There were 300 natural-cause deaths in 2017/18, an increase of 10% from 2016/17. Deaths due to natural causes account for around a third (31%) of all deaths in the community over the last seven years.

There were 285 self-inflicted deaths in 2017/18, an increase of 14% from 2016/17, and this accounted for 30% of all deaths. This is a similar proportion to 2016/17 but a slight decrease from 2014/15 and 2015/16 (34% and 37% respectively).

In 2017/18 there were 836 male deaths, accounting for 88% of all deaths, with 31% due to natural causes and 31% self-inflicted. There were 119 female deaths and this year the main cause of death was natural causes
(33%) with self-inflicted accounting for 25% of female deaths. I found it particularly shocking that just 28% men and 20% women who died were aged 50 years or older. 

Jake Phillips, Reader in Criminology at Sheffield Hallam University, will be doing an in-depth analysis of the trends in deaths under probation supervision in the community in next Saturday’s blog.

Conclusion

Statistical bulletins are dull publications filled with bureaucratic definitions and line charts. 

Behind each figure though, is a human story of loss and tragedy. Reframed into ordinary English, on average every week in the last year:

  • More than six people died in prison, one or two of them by their own hand.
  • Nineteen offenders supervised by probation died, between five and six committing suicide.
  • There were 953 incidents of self-harm in English and Welsh prisons.
  • There were 626 assaults in prison,  of which 76 were classified as serious assaults.
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