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Big jump in prison suicides
The latest (Jan 2022) prison safety statistics show an alarming 28% increase in the number of self-inflicted deaths.

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371 deaths in prison custody in 2021

Today’s Safety in Custody statistics make for the usual grim reading. They cover Deaths in Prison Custody to December 2021 and Assaults and Self-harm to September 2021. n the 12 months to December 2021, there were 371 deaths in prison custody, an increase of 17% from 318 deaths the previous 12 months. Of these, 86 deaths were self-inflicted, a 28% increase from the 67 self-inflicted deaths in the previous 12 months. 
In the most recent quarter there were 84 deaths, a 29% increase from 65 deaths in the previous quarter, much of the rise attributable to the rise in COVID deaths (you can see my detailed tracking of COVID infections and deaths among people in prison here – it is updated every month with official data).


There were 52,726 self-harm incidents in the 12 months to September 2021, down 11% from the previous 12 months (a 12% decrease in male establishments and a 5% decrease in female establishments). However, taking into account of the fall in the prison average population since the start of 2020, the rate of self-harm incidents per 1,000 prisoners decreased 9% in male establishments but increased 5% in female establishments in the 12 months to September 2021.

In the most recent quarter there were 13,612 self-harm incidents, down 3% on the previous quarter (a 1% decrease in male establishments and a 10% decrease in female establishments).

About one in 20 (or  a staggering 2,600) self-harm incidents were serious enough to require hospital attendance with this proportion increasing slightly over the last year: 

The number of self-harm incidents requiring hospital attendance decreased by 6% to 2,672 in the 12 months to September 2021 and decreased by 6% in the latest quarter to 662 incidents. The proportion of incidents that required hospital attendance increased slightly from 4.8% in the 12 months to September 2020 to 5.1% in the latest 12 months.


Conversely, and almost completely attributable to the fact that most people in most prison have been restricted to their cells for mot of every day, there has been a big fall in the number of assaults, however, there was a worrying jump in the last quarter (likely to be reversed in the next set of statistics as Omicron has resulted in a return to an even more restrictive regime in most prisons).

In the 12 months to September 2021, there were 20,049 assault incidents, a 18% decrease from the previous 12 months. Of these 2,042 were serious assaults, down by 25%. Rates of assault and serious assault per 1,000 prisoners decreased to a lesser extent, by 15% and 21% respectively. Assaults increased by 9% in the latest quarter to 5,569 incidents while the number of serious assaults increased by 11% to 564 incidents.


The new Prisons Strategy White Paper published last month sets out five priority action areas to address prison safety:

  1. Make significant progress against plans to deliver 290 ligature-resistant cells to protect vulnerable prisoners during a time of acute crisis;
  2. Introduce an Enhanced Support Service, which provides support for individuals from a prison officer, mental health nurse and psychologist, in prisons where violence is most prevalent;
  3. Through an innovation taskforce, consider the best interventions for violent prisoners or those who self-harm;
  4. Provide improved Body Worn Video Cameras to all staff who need them;
  5. Pilot technology that has the potential to monitor vulnerable prisoners’ health at a time of crisis, supporting the care given by prison officers to prevent suicide and self-harm.

Let’s hope we can see their impact on prison safety statistics in the near future.


Thanks to Dan Meyers for kind permission to use the header image in this post which was previously published on Unsplash.

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