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The number of people dying on probation rises again
1,520 people lost their lives while on probation supervision in 2022/23 - 6% more than the previous year.

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Deaths of offenders in the community

Generally, I enjoy writing these blog posts, informing myself on the latest developments and sharing the findings with readers but I always dread the annual publication of the official statistics on Deaths of Offenders in the Community which came out last Thursday (26 October 2023). I am old enough to be more than aware that death is a fact of life but I find it so upsetting to write about yet another increase in the number of people who have lost their lives while being supervised by the probation service in the community. 1,520 people died in the last financial year, very many of them dying too young and all of them leaving grieving families and friends behind.

The statistics

The statistician notes (alongside a very welcome plea for journalists who are writing a story about suicides to follow the Samaritans’ media guidelines) that a new reporting framework came into action in June last year, so that figures relating to the different apparent causes of death for this year are not directly comparable to those from previous years. Here are the grim details:

  • From April 2022 to March 2023, there were 1,520 deaths of offenders in the community. This represents an increase of 6% from 1,439 deaths in the financial year ending 2022.
  • 847 deaths (56% of total) in the community were offenders serving court orders in the financial year ending 2023. This represents an increase of 12% from 756 deaths (53% of total) the previous year.
  • 619 deaths (41% of total) were offenders on post-release supervision. This represents a decrease of 3% from 637 deaths (44% of total) in the previous year.
  • Natural causes was the most common cause of death, accounting for 568 deaths, accounting for 37% of deaths last year.
  • There were 360 self-inflicted deaths, 24% of all deaths in the community.
  • There were 314 deaths awaiting further information required for a classification (21% of deaths).


With the exception of April 2019 to March 2020, there has been a broad upward trend in the number of total deaths of offenders in the community in England and Wales since 2014 when the Offender Rehabilitation Act ORA (which introduced compulsory post-release supervision for people serving short sentences) took effect.

Since 2014/15, the separate figures for male and female deaths have also been on a broadly upward trend. Last year there were 1,319 male and 201 female deaths, representing increases of 6% and 5%, respectively, compared to the previous year. Male deaths accounted for 87% of all deaths whilst female deaths made up 13% of total deaths. The proportion of all deaths based on sex has remained stable over time.

At the time of death, 37% of males were aged 36 to 49, compared to 45% for females in last year; this age group continues to have the highest number of deaths for both sexes. The age group of 50 to 65 has the second highest accounting for 28% of males and 24% of females. Males were more likely than females to be in the oldest age group, with 11% of males aged over 65 at the time of death (compared with 2% of females).

The proportions of males in the 50 to 65 and over 65 age categories have been rising since 2017/18 from 20% to 28% and from 8% to 11% respectively. In contrast, the proportions of males in the 18 to 24 and 25 to 35 age categories have fallen from 8% to 4% and from 24% to 18% respectively over the same period, showing the average age at death for males is shifting towards the older age groups. The proportions of females in these age categories have remained more consistent over recent years.

Apparent cause of death

In April 2022 to March 2023, the most common cause of death for offenders supervised in the community was natural causes (568 deaths), accounting for 37% of all deaths. This was followed by 360 self-inflicted deaths (24% of the total); the majority of these were drug poisonings of undetermined intent (43%) and hangings (30%). The MoJ has changed its definition of “self-inflicted deaths” (a horrible term, I know). It is now: “Any death of a person at their own hand, including where intent is undetermined. This includes some drug poisonings (e.g. where a suicide note is found or the circumstances are suspicious) but not drug poisonings which appear to have been the accidental result of consumption for another purpose.”

Of the 244 other: non-natural deaths (16% of total deaths), 32% were unintentional drug poisonings. Homicide was the least common cause, with 34 deaths in April 2022 to March 2023, equivalent to 2% of total deaths.

There were a further 314 deaths (21%) awaiting further information and therefore could not be assigned a known cause of death with current information. This is likely due to the time taken for probation practitioners to receive relevant information and this figure may reduce when revised in future publications.

Men were less likely to die of natural causes than women (37% vs 42%) and more likely to take their own lives (24% vs 16%) or die “non-natural” deaths (23% vs 14%). Of the 34 homicide deaths last year, only one was female (0.5% of female deaths) and the remaining 33 were male (2.5% of male deaths).

Tragically, yet again we see that 61 people died in the first two weeks after prison release, only 9 of whom died from natural causes.


This set of statistics always reminds me forcefully that very many people in contact with the criminal justice system face multiple traumas in their lives and often have a much shorter span of years than they should expect.


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

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