Prison safety stats
Earlier today (25 July 2019) the MoJ published the latest quarterly safety in Custody statistics bulletin which make for some very difficult reading. The previous bulletin showed the first indication that there may be some slight improvements in prison safety. Unfortunately, the new bulletin, which covers deaths in prison custody for the year to June 2019 and assaults and self-harm for the 12 months to March this year, shows unprecedented levels of self-har and assaults.
In the 12 months to June 2019, there were 309 deaths in prison custody (a rate of 3.7 per 1,000 prisoners), a decrease from 311 deaths in the previous year. The most recent quarter saw the number of deaths decrease to 73, down from 77 in the three months to March 2019. Quarterly death figures should be considered with caution due to greater volatility and the potential for seasonal effects.
There were 86 apparent self-inflicted deaths in the latest year (a rate of 1.0 per 1,000 prisoners), up 6% from 81 the previous year, and 165 deaths due to natural causes (a rate of 2.0 per 1,000 prisoners), a 6% decrease from 176 deaths the previous year.
In the 12 months to March 2019, there were 57,968 reported incidents of self-harm (a rate of 699 per 1,000 prisoners), up 24% from the previous year. On a quarterly basis, the number of incidents in the three months to March 2019 increased to 14,415 (up 1% on the previous quarter), although remained lower than the July to September 2018 peak (15,462 incidents).
The number of individuals self-harming increased by 6% in the latest year, to a highest recorded figure of 12,539 individuals (a rate of 151 individuals per 1,000 prisoners). The number of incidents per self-harming individual increased by 15%, from 4.0 in the previous 12 months to 4.6 in the latest year, 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 a year.
The number of self-harm incidents requiring hospital attendance increased by 5% to 3,261 in the latest year, although this figure decreased by 10% in the latest quarter, falling to 776 incidents. The proportion of incidents that required hospital attendance also decreased in the previous 12 months, from 6.6% to 5.6%.
In the 12 months to March 2019, assault incidents increased by 11% to a new record high of 34,425, a rate of 415 incidents per 1,000 prisoners. In the latest quarter, there were 8,445 assaults, an increase of 4% from the previous quarter, although this figure remains below the peak of 9,126 in the July to September 2018 quarter.
The number of incidents in male establishments increased by 11% from 29,768 to 32,908 in the 12 months to March 2019, and the number of incidents in female establishments increased by 21% from 1,257 to 1,517 incidents. The number of assaults in female establishments reached a record high of 414 incidents in the latest quarter. Assault rates were higher in male establishments (416 incidents per 1,000 prisoners) than female establishments (396 in incidents per 1,000 prisoners) in the latest 12 months.
There were 24,541 prisoner-on-prisoner assaults in the 12 months to March 2019 (a rate of 296 per 1,000 prisoners), an increase of 10% from the previous year, and a new record high. The latest quarter saw a 4% increase in prisoner-on-prisoner assaults (to 6,018 incidents), although the figure was below the peak of 6,410 incidents in the July to September 2018 quarter.
There were 10,311 assaults on staff in the 12 months to March 2019 (a rate of 124 per 1,000 prisoners), up 15% from the previous year. This is the highest level in the time series. In the latest quarter there was a 4% increase in assaults on staff (to 2,525 incidents), although this was lower than the peak in the July to September 2018 quarter (2,837 incidents).
The proportion of assaults on staff increased to 30% of all incidents in the 12 months to March 2019, an increase from 29% in the previous 12 months, and a steady increase from 20% between 2008 and 2011.
In male establishments, prisoner-on-prisoner assaults increased by 10% to 23,618 incidents (299 incidents per 1,000 male prisoners), and assaults on staff increased by 13% to 9,710 incidents (123 incidents per 1,000 male prisoners) in the 12 months to March 2019.
In female establishments, prisoner-on-prisoner assaults increased by 7% to 923 incidents (241 incidents per 1,000 female prisoners), and assaults on staff increased by 52% to 601 incidents (157 incidents per 1,000 female prisoners) in the 12 months to March 2019.
It has been a deeply upsetting task to cover the quarterly Safety in Custody Bulletins as closely as I have done over the last three years.
Because the data are so recent (up to June for deaths and March for self-harm and assaults), I continue to believe they are the most reliable indicator of the state of our prison system.
The scale of violence in our prisons is disturbing to say the least; the number of assaults have doubled in the ten years from 2008 to 2018.
Lack of ministerial stability at the MoJ must be considered to be a contributory factor to the failure to turn round the prison safety figures. The most recent Prison & Probation Minister, Robert Buckland, was only in post for 11 weeks before being promoted to Justice Secretary yesterday.
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the images in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.