Last week’s (27 April, 2023) Safety in Custody Statistics made for predictably grim reading. The figures, which covered the period to this March for deaths in prison custody and to the end of 2022 for assaults and self harm, revealed an increase in the number of deaths in custody despite the virtual eradication of COVID-related deaths.
In the 12 months to March 2023, there were 322 deaths in prison custody, an increase of 12% from 287 deaths in the previous 12 months. Of these, 82 deaths were self-inflicted, a 4% increase from the 79 self-inflicted deaths in the previous 12 months. In the most recent quarter there were 90 deaths, a 15% increase from 78 deaths in the previous quarter.
There were 55,264 self-harm incidents in the 12 months to December 2022, up 3% from the previous 12 months, comprising of a 6% decrease in male establishments and a 37% increase in female establishments. Over the same period, the rate of self-harm incidents per 1,000 prisoners, which takes account of the increase in the prison population between this and the previous year, decreased 9% in male establishments but increased 36% in female establishments.
In the most recent quarter, there were 14,730 self-harm incidents, down 3% on the previous quarter, comprising a 7% decrease in male establishments and a 5% increase in female establishments.
There was a slight reduction in the number of people who self-harmed last year, down 2% to 10,910 individuals. However, the number of self-harm incidents per individual increased from 4.8 in the 12 months to December 2021 to 5.1 in the 12 months to December 2022.
The chart below which I have reproduced from the official bulletin shows the relentless rise in the number of women in prison harming themselves over the last decade.
In 2022, there were 20,993 assault incidents, a 7% increase from the previous 12 months. Of these, 2,417 were serious assaults, up 19%. Rates of assault and serious assault per 1,000 prisoners increased 4% and 15% respectively in the latest 12 months. Assaults decreased 3% in the latest quarter to 5,397 incidents while the number of serious assaults decreased by 4% to 625 incidents.
The rate of assault in male establishments increased by 3% from the previous 12 months, while the rate in female establishments increased by 21%. Assault rates for 2022 were higher in female establishments (419 incidents per 1,000 prisoners) than in male establishments (255 incidents per 1,000 prisoners).
There were 7,229 assaults on staff in the 12 months to December 2022, a 4% decrease from the previous 12 months. In the latest quarter the number of assaults on staff decreased by 4% to 1,830 incidents.
The rate of assaults on staff per 1,000 prisoners decreased by 7%, comprising a decrease of 8% in male establishments and an increase of 12% in female establishments compared with the previous 12 months.
However, importantly, there were 2,417 serious assault incidents in 2022, a 19% increase from the previous 12 months. The rate of serious assault increased by 15% over the period.
Serious prisoner-on-prisoner assaults increased by 28% to 1,745, and serious assaults on staff increased by 2% to 709 in the 12 months to December 2022.
It seems perhaps reasonable to assume that we will not see a significant improvement in these disturbing statistics until our prisons are properly staffed and prisoners are not spending most of their lives confined to their cells. Unfortunately, it seems clear from the prison inspectorate’s reports that little or no progress is being made on this front.
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here