Self-harm in prison continues to rise

Self-harm incidents reached a record high of 61,461 incidents in the 12 months to September 2019, up 16% from the previous 12 months.

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Prison safety stats

The latest quarterly safety in Custody statistics bulletin,  published today make for predictably grim reading. Despite the fact that figures have been worsening every quarter for the last five years, the new bulletin, which covers deaths in prison custody for the year 2019 and assaults and self-harm for the 12 months to September last year, once again shows unprecedented levels of self-harm.

Deaths

In the 12 months to December 2019, there were 300 deaths in prison custody (a rate of 3.6 per 1,000 prisoners), a decrease from 325 deaths in the previous 12 months (a rate of 3.9 per 1,000 prisoners). The most recent quarter saw the number of deaths decrease to 74, down from 76 in the three months to September 2019. Quarterly death figures should be considered with caution due to greater volatility and the potential for seasonal effects.

There were 84 apparent self-inflicted deaths in the 12 months to December 2019 (a rate of 1.0 per 1,000 prisoners), a decrease from 92 self-inflicted deaths in the previous 12 months. Also, there were 165 deaths due to natural causes (a rate of 2.0 per 1,000 prisoners), a 3% decrease from 170 deaths the previous 12 months.

Self-harm

In the 12 months to September 2019, there were 61,461 reported incidents of self-harm (a rate of 742 per 1,000 prisoners), up 16% from the previous 12 months. On a quarterly basis, the number of incidents in the three months to September 2019 stayed at the same level as the previous quarter (going from 16,342 to 16,329 incidents).

The number of individuals self-harming increased by 2% in the latest 12 months, to the highest recorded figure of 12,740 individuals (a rate of 154 individuals per 1,000 prisoners). The number of incidents per self-harming individual increased by 14%, from 4.2 in the previous 12 months to 4.8 in the latest 12 months, although a small number of prolific self-harmers have a disproportionate impact on this figure. The majority of those who self-harm in prison do so only once. 

The number of self-harm incidents requiring hospital attendance increased by 7% to 3,416 in the 12 months to September 2019, however it decreased by 7% in the latest quarter (893 incidents). The proportion of incidents that required hospital attendance decreased in the previous 12 months, from 6.0% to 5.6%.

Assaults

In the 12 months to September 2019, assault incidents decreased by 2% to 33,222, a rate of 401 incidents per 1,000 prisoners. In the latest quarter, there were 8,221 assaults, decrease of 2% from the previous quarter. The quarterly figure reached a peak of 9,111 in the July to September 2018 quarter.

The number of incidents in male establishments decreased by 2% from 32,442 to 31,732 in the 12 months to September 2019. The number of incidents in female establishments increased by 7% from 1,387 to 1,490 incidents in the same period.

In the latest quarter, the number of assaults in male establishments decreased by 1% to 7,892, and the number of assaults in female establishments decreased by 7% to 329. Assault rates were higher in male establishments (402 incidents per 1,000 prisoners) than female establishments (391 incidents per 1,000 prisoners) in the latest 12 months.

Conclusion

It has been a deeply upsetting task to cover the quarterly Safety in Custody Bulletins as closely as I have done over the last few years. 

Because the data are so recent (up to December for deaths and September for self-harm and assaults), I continue to believe they are the most reliable indicator of the state of our prison system.

There has been a slight decrease in the number of deaths and assaults, a trend which we hope will continue over the coming year.

However, it is hard to comprehend how and why the level of self-harm continues to rise. Given the recent sentencing decisions which will result in an increase in the prison population, there is the need for urgent investment in our prisons and those who staff them.

Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.

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