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Massive increase in self-harm in women’s prisons
Summer 2023 Safety in Custody statistics show massive increase in self-harm in women's prisons

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Safety in Custody statistics

Two days ago (27 July, 2023), the MoJ published more than a dozen sets of statistics including the quarterly Safety in Custody bulletin which covers death inside until the end of June and assaults and self-harm until the end of March. As usual, they make for grim reading, even more so than usual when we look at women in prison.

Deaths in custody

In the 12 months to June 2023, there were 313 deaths in prison custody, an increase of 9% from 288 deaths in the previous 12 months. Of these, 88 deaths were self-inflicted, a 26% increase from the 70 self-inflicted deaths in the previous 12 months. There was some slight encouragement from the fact that in the most recent quarter there were 61 deaths, a 32% decrease from 90 deaths in the previous quarter.


The rate of self-harm incidents decreased in the male estate from the previous 12-month period but increased in the female estate
There were 59,722 self-harm incidents in the 12 months to March 2023, an 11% increase from the previous 12 months (a 1% decrease in male establishments and a considerable 52% increase in female establishments). Over the same period the rate of self-harm incidents per 1,000 prisoners decreased by 5% in male establishments and increased by 51% in female establishments.

Even more disappointingly, in the most recent quarter, there were 16,543 self-harm incidents, up 12% on the previous quarter (a 14% increase in male establishments and a 7% increase in female establishments).

The rate of self-harm in the female estate (5,826 incidents per 1,000 prisoners) was over eleven times higher than in the male estate (523 incidents per 1,000 prisoners).

Self-harm incidents requiring hospital attendance increased in male establishments by 1%, to 2,475 in the 12 months to March 2023. In the female estate 302 self-harm incidents required hospital attendance, an increase from 235 incidents the previous year.


In the 12 months to March 2023, there were 22,319 assault incidents, an 11% increase from the previous 12 months. Of these, 2,564 were serious assaults, up 23%. Rates of assault and serious assault per 1,000 prisoners increased 7% and 19% respectively in the latest 12 months.

Assaults increased 11% in the latest quarter to 6,000 incidents while the number of serious assaults increased by 4% to 653 incidents.

Again, there was a significant gender difference. The rate of assault in male establishments increased by 7% from the previous 12 months, while the rate in female establishments increased by 16%. Assault rates for the 12 months to March 2023 remained higher in female establishments (436 incidents per 1,000 prisoners) than in male establishments (267 incidents per 1,000 prisoners).

There were 7,461 assaults on staff in the 12 months to March 2023, a 2% decrease from the previous 12 months. However, in the latest quarter the number of assaults on staff increased by 7% to 1,959 incidents.
The rate of assaults on staff per 1,000 prisoners decreased by 5% in the latest 12 months, comprising decreases of 6% in male establishments and 1% in female establishments compared with the previous 12 months.

As we have seen, there was a worrying 23% increase in the number of serious assaults. There were 1,878 serious prisoner-on-prisoner assaults (a rate of 23 per 1,000 prisoners) in the 12 months to March 2023, a 32% increase from the previous 12 months. The rate of serious prisoner-on-prisoner assaults in the latest 12 months was 28% higher than in the previous 12 months. In the latest quarter, there were 484 serious prisoner-on-prisoner assaults, a 3% increase from the previous quarter.

Serious assaults were more likely in male establishments with 12% of all assaults defined as serious in men’s prisons, twice the proportion (6%) of that in women’s. 

[Serious assaults are defined s those which fall into one or more of the following categories: a sexual assault; requires detention in outside hospital as an in-patient; requires medical treatment for concussion or internal injuries; or incurs any of the following injuries: a fracture, scald or burn, stabbing, crushing, extensive or multiple bruising, black eye, broken nose, lost or broken tooth, cuts requiring suturing, bites, temporary or permanent blindness.]

The rapid rise in the prison population, yesterday’s invoking of the Urgent Notification process at HMP Bristol in combination with these tragic figures make it a dreadful week for the prison service particularly for those men and women in its care.


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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