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Prison self-harm – worst ever figures
Self-harm incidents reached a record high of 64,552 incidents in the 12 months to March 2020, up 11% from the previous 12 months.

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Latest safety in custody figures

The latest quarterly safety in Custody statistics bulletin, published last Thursday 30 July make for predictably grim reading, although there were some improvements recorded in the last quarter.  The figures cover deaths in prison to June 2020 and assaults and self-harm to March.



In the 12 months to June 2020, there were 294 deaths in prison custody (a rate of 3.6 per 1,000 prisoners), a decrease from 309 deaths in the previous 12 months (a rate of 3.7 per 1,000 prisoners). The most recent quarter saw the number of deaths increase to 81, an increase of 29% from 63 in the three months to March 2020.

There were 76 apparent self-inflicted deaths in the 12 months to June 2020 (a rate of 0.9 per 1,000 prisoners), a decrease of 13% from 87 self-inflicted deaths in the previous 12 months. Also, there were 179 deaths due to natural causes (a rate of 2.2 per 1,000 prisoners), a 7% increase from 168 deaths the previous 12 months. 37 deaths are still to be classified.

From March 2020 to the end of June 2020 26 prisoners have died having tested positive for COVID-19
where there was a clinical assessment that COVID-19 was a contributory factor in their deaths. Of these, 23 deaths are suspected to be due to COVID-19 and 3 deaths are believed to be due to other causes, although the prisoner had tested positive for COVID-19.


In the 12 months to March 2020, there were 64,552 reported incidents of self-harm (a rate of 777 per 1,000 prisoners), up 11% from the previous 12 months, and the highest recorded figure. On a quarterly basis, the number of incidents in the three months to March 2020 decreased by 6% from the previous quarter (from 16,296 to 15,390 incidents).

The number of individuals self-harming increased by 5% in the latest 12 months, to the highest recorded figure of 13,180 individuals (a rate of 159 individuals per 1,000 prisoners). The number of incidents per self-harming individual increased by 7%, from 4.6 in the previous 12 months to 4.9 in the latest 12 months, although a small number of prolific self-harmers have a disproportionate impact on this figure. Just over a half (53%) of prisoners who self-harmed in 2019 did so more than once.

The number of self-harm incidents requiring hospital attendance increased by 5% to 3,429 in the 12 months to March 2020, however it decreased by 17% in the latest quarter (712 incidents).


In the 12 months to March 2020, assault incidents decreased by 8% to 31,568, a rate of 380 incidents per 1,000 prisoners. In the latest quarter, there were 7,245 assaults, decrease of 5% from the previous quarter. The quarterly figure reached a peak of 9,111 in the July to September 2018 quarter.

The number of incidents in male establishments decreased by 8% from 32,923 to 30,189 in the 12 months to March 2020. The number of incidents in female establishments decreased by 9% from 1,515 to 1,379 incidents in the same period.

In the latest quarter, the number of assaults in male establishments decreased by 6% to 6,903, and the number of assaults in female establishments increased by 5% to 342. Assault rates were higher in male establishments (380 incidents per 1,000 prisoners) than female establishments (367 incidents per 1,000 prisoners) in the latest 12 months.


For the last five years myself and my readers have been able to use these quarterly Safety in Custody Statistics as a reliable barometer of the state of our prisons. Regrettably, the statistics have consistently painted a deplorable picture of unprecedented levels of self-harm and assaults. This latest set of stats suggest that things might have been starting to improve slowly at the start of this year. However, it is going to be difficult to use the next set of stats as a way of confirming or refuting this trend since they will cover the period in which everyone in prison was locked down. This almost certainly means that the number of assaults will plummet. It is hard to guess what the self-harm figures will say. My personal (completely unscientific) hunch is that self-harm may increase because of the emotional and psychological pressures of prolonged lockdown but that the figures will go down since officers are not having sufficient contact with prisoners to record them. We shall see.


Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here. The image is of a constant watch cell where, if there has been a suicide incident, a prison officer sits outside 24 hours a day to ensure that an offender does not harm himself.

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