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Another set of worst ever prison safety figures

New prison safety statistics reveal more than 60,000 incidents of self harm in the year to June 2019.

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Prison safety stats

The latest quarterly safety in Custody statistics bulletin,  published last Thursday 31 October may for predictably grim reading. Despite the fact that figures have been worsening every quarter for the last five years, the new bulletin, which covers deaths in prison custody for the year to September 2019 and assaults and self-harm for the 12 months to June this year, once again shows unprecedented levels of self-harm and assaults.


In the 12 months to September 2019, there were 308 deaths in prison custody (a rate of 3.7 per 1,000 prisoners), a slight decrease from 325 deaths in the previous 12 months (a rate of 3.9 per 1,000 prisoners). The most recent quarter saw the number of deaths increase to 76, up from 73 in the three months to June 2019. Quarterly death figures should be considered with caution due to greater volatility and the potential for seasonal effects. 

Tragically, there were 90 apparent self-inflicted deaths in the 12 months to September 2019 (a rate of 1.1 per 1,000 prisoners), there were 89 in the previous 12 months, and 158 deaths due to natural causes (a rate of 1.9 per 1,000 prisoners), a 9% decrease from 173 deaths the previous 12 months.


In the 12 months to June 2019, there were 60,594 reported incidents of self-harm (a rate of 732 per 1,000 prisoners), up 22% from the previous 12 months. On a quarterly basis, the number of incidents in the three months to June 2019 increased to 16,342 (up 13% on the previous quarter), a record high number of quarterly incidents.

The number of individuals self-harming increased by 5% in the latest 12 months, to the highest recorded figure of 12,740 individuals (a rate of 154 individuals per 1,000 prisoners). The number of incidents per self-harming individual increased by 17%, from 4.1 in the previous 12 months to 4.8 in the latest 12 months, although a small number of prolific self-harmers have a disproportionate impact on this figure. The majority of those who self-harm in prison do so only once. Additional detail on this can be found in the annual self-harm tables.

The number of self-harm incidents requiring hospital attendance increased by 7% to 3,388 in the 12 months to June 2019, and increased by 24% in the latest quarter (964 incidents). The proportion of incidents that required hospital attendance decreased in the previous 12 months, from 6.4% to 5.6%.


In the 12 months to June 2019, assault incidents increased by 5% to 34,112, a rate of 412 incidents per 1,000 prisoners. In the latest quarter, there were 8,360 assaults, a decrease of 1% from the previous quarter. The quarterly figure reached a peak of 9,126 in the July to September 2018 quarter.

The number of incidents in male establishments increased by 4% from 31,210 to 32,586 in the 12 months to June 2019. The number of incidents in female establishments increased by 13% from 1,346 to 1,526 incidents in the same period.
In the latest quarter, the number of assaults in male establishments decreased by 1% to 8,005, and the number of assaults in female establishments decreased by 14% to 355. Assault rates were higher in male establishments (413 incidents per 1,000 prisoners) than female establishments (401 incidents per 1,000 prisoners) in the latest 12 months.


It has been a deeply upsetting task to cover the quarterly Safety in Custody Bulletins as closely as I have done over the last few years. 

Because the data are so recent (up to September for deaths and June for self-harm and assaults), I continue to believe they are the most reliable indicator of the state of our prison system.

The scale of violence in our prisons is disturbing to say the least; the number of assaults have doubled in the ten years from 2009 to 2019.

The current statistics were published on the same day as the Justice Committee published its withering attack on the government for failure to put in place a proper strategy to tackle the prisons crisis. Whichever political party is in power in the new year, we must hope they prioritise making our prisons a safer place to live and work.

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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