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110,000 incarcerated in the UK

National Preventive Mechanism lays bare the extent of detention in the UK and that 70 people per month die while incarcerated.

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70 deaths per month

Two days ago (24 January 2018), the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) — the prevention of torture and ill-treatment body established to strengthen the protection of people in detention through independent monitoring in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland — published its report mapping the detention population for 2016/17. Its headline findings are shocking, on 31 March 2017:

  • An estimated 87,499 adults over the age of 21 were detained in prisons in England, Wales and Scotland;
  • 5,872 people aged 20 or under were detained in youth custody in England, Wales and Scotland;
  • There were 3,389 adults held in residential immigration detention in the UK;
  • More than 15,000 individuals were detained under mental health legislation in England and Wales alone.

The numbers of people detained on 31 March 2017 do not include those in police custody (because of difficulties sourcing the data). However, the NPM found that between 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017 there were at least 840,607 “detention events” in police custody across the UK.
The NPM also found an average of 70 deaths per month, with at least 841 people dying in or following detention in prisons, secure settings for children and young adults, police custody, immigration centres and psychiatric hospitals, including those detained under the Mental Health Act. The deaths included some of the most vulnerable people held in detention:

  • two children, both aged 17 years old, who died in Secure Children’s Homes in England and Wales;
  • eight young adults aged 18-20 years old who died in prisons or YOIs in England, Wales and Scotland;
  • six adults who died in or following immigration detention; and one apparently self-inflicted death of a person detained in prison for immigration purposes.

What is the NPM?

The National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) is the network of independent bodies that have responsibility for preventing ill-treatment in detention. In every jurisdiction of the UK –Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales – the bodies in this network have the job of inspecting or monitoring every place of detention with the aim of preventing the ill-treatment of those detained. These inspection and monitoring bodies provide essential protections for anyone detained anywhere in the UK, many of whom are vulnerable. Whether a person is compulsorily detained in a prison, an immigration detention centre, a psychiatric hospital, as a child in a secure training centre, or in any other kind of detention, there is an organisation designed to ensure that ill-treatment will not be tolerated. The UK’s NPM was created to comply with the United Nations’ Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). The UK ratified OPCAT in December 2003 and designated the NPM in March 2009.

Breakdown of inarceration

The snapshot figures above do not present the whole picture and the NPM provides more, sombre, information about the number of people detained over the full year in different settings:

  • 840,607 “detention events” in police custody in the UK (many people will have been detained on more than one occasion)
  • 55,371 “detention events” for people held in non-residential short term immigration detention holding facilities
  • 45,864 people detained under mental health legislation in England
  • 96,340 deprivation of liberty safeguards granted in England
  • 557 “detention events” in Customs custody suites in England & Scotland
  • 332 people detained in Military Corrective Training Centres in the UK

Breakdown of deaths

Again, the NPM provides information on the total number of people who died in detention over the 2016/17 year, all figures refer to the UK as a whole:

  • 380 deaths in adult prisons (aged 21 years or older)
  • 8 deaths in secure settings for children and young adults (aged under 21 years)
  • 7 deaths of people held in residential immigration detention
  • 96 deaths in police custody
  • 349 deaths of people detained under mental health legislation


The sheer scale of detention in the UK is laid bare by this report; the figure of 110,000 is “only” the number of human beings incarcerated on a single day. Adult prison receptions in England and Wales alone run at about 35,000 per quarter, so the number of people detained in the UK over the last year is likely to be about 200,000.

These figures would be scary enough on their own as an indication of how prone we are to incarcerating people in the UK. They become terrifying when you take into account the current state of many of the institutions in which individual human beings are detained.pulvinar dapibus leo.

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