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More and more people dying on probation

Official data sadly tells us that 1,343 people on probation died in 2020/21, a jump of 34% on the previous year.

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Big rise in "self-inflicted" deaths

I’m afraid the blog is making for grim reading this week. Yesterday, I posted on the big jump in deaths and self-harm in our prisons, based on the latest Prison Safety statistics. Yesterday (28 October 2021) was also the day that the Ministry of Justice published their annual data on “deaths of offenders in the community“, in this case covering the year 2020/21. Tragically, 1,344 people on probation died in 2020/21, 34% more than the 999 people the previous year. While your initial assumption might be that COVID is to blame, the MoJ estimates that “just ” 49 were due to COVID and 11 suspected to be due to COVID. Of course the impact of the pandemic on the availability and accessibility of helping services is likely to have had a big effect. The main findings are summarised in the infographic below, reproduced in full from the official MoJ bulletin. Another point to bear in mind that the dreadful rise in these numbers comes at a time when the number of people being supervised by the probation service actually fell (by 6% for those on court order supervision and 8% for those supervised post-release).

Gender and age

In 2020/21 there were 1,170 male deaths, accounting for 87% of all deaths. 40% of male deaths were due to natural causes in 2020/21, the highest in the time series, and an increase from 32% in each of the previous three years. The number of self-inflicted deaths by male offenders exceeded deaths from natural causes in the previous two years, but the proportion of self-inflicted deaths decreased from 34% in 2019/20 to 29% in 2020/21. It’s still important to note that the number of self-inflicted deaths still rose by a worrying 18%. The term “self-inflicted death” is not designed to gloss over the trauma of suicide but includes those who take their own lives and a large number of drug-related deaths.

There were 173 female deaths in 2020/21, accounting for 13% of all deaths. The main cause of female deaths in 2020/21 was self-inflicted (39%), followed by deaths from natural causes (28%). The proportion of self-inflicted deaths by female offenders has been gradually increasing from 25% in 2017/18, and was just below the peak of 40% in 2015/16.

At the time of death, 38% of males were aged 36-49, compared to 47% for females in 2020/21. 24% of males and 21% of females were aged 50-65. Males were more likely than females to be in the oldest age group, with 12% of males aged over 65 (compared with 2% of females).

Cause of death

There were 514 deaths from natural causes including 60 related to COVID, making up 38% of all deaths. There were 409 self-inflicted deaths (30%) of the total. 80 people also died from accidents, a big jump of 48% on the previous year and  6% of all deaths. 42 people were homicide victims, two more than the previous year. Twenty two per cent of deaths were unclassified (at least so far).

Deaths on release from prison

Tragically, no fewer than 70 people died in the first two weeks after their release from prison with 43% of these deaths recorded as self-inflicted.

Type of supervision

The number of deaths of offenders under post-release supervision in the community increased from 458 in 2019/20 to 728 in 2020/21, an increase of 59% and now form 54% of the total. The number of offenders who died while serving court orders in the community increased 13%, from 541 in 2019/20 (54% of total deaths) to 614 in 2020/21.

17 people died  while resident in approved premises (a probation hostel), four less than the previous year.

Conclusion

Although we can be scared and distressed by this ever-growing number of people who die under probation supervision, it is difficult to know how to address it. Currently, we know very little of the circumstances of these deaths although the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman has recently announced  that her office will be taking on the responsibility for investigating the deaths of people who die after release from prison. They are currently recruiting more investigators and hope to start work later this year. We must hope for some indications of how best to try to reverse this dreadful trend.

 

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

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