New statistics on deaths and self-harm 'expose perilous state of prisons' in England

By agency reporter
August 1, 2020

The Ministry of Justice has released the latest statistics on deaths and self-harm in prison in England. The safety in custody statistics show that every five days a person in prison takes their life and for the seventh consecutive year self-harm has reached record levels.
 
The Ministry of Justice report that in the 12 months to March 2020, self-harm incidents reached a new record high of 64,552 incidents, up 11 per cent from the previous 12 months. This is almost three times the number of self-harm incidents than in the same period in 2013 (33,780) and is equivalent to 177 incidents per day. Self-harm in the children’s estate increased by 51 per cent on the previous year (from 779 to 1,178).
 
In the 12 months to June 2020, there were a total of 294 deaths of people in prison, around six deaths every week. Of these deaths:

  • Seven were in women’s prisons.
  • 76 were self-inflicted.
  • 179 deaths were classed as ‘natural causes’, though INQUEST casework and monitoring shows many of these deaths are in fact premature and far from ‘natural’.
  • 37 deaths were recorded as ‘other’, 28 of which are awaiting classification.
  • There were also two homicides.

According to INQUEST’s casework and monitoring, there was also an additional still birth death of a baby in HMP Styal in June 2020.
 
Despite there being 15 fewer deaths in prison during the year to June 2020 when compared to the year June 2019, the rate of deaths per 1,000 prisoners has remained at an historically high level for five years.
 
On 24 March, the Secretary of State for Justice placed prisons across England and Wales under immediate lock down. Across the prison estate, men, women and children continue to be held in prolonged solitary confinement. There are reports that four months into the restrictions, in some prisons mental health is being operated largely as a ‘crisis service’.
 
Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST, said: “Yet again, these new figures show prisons are in a perilous state. Every five days a person in prison takes their own life. Others are dying because of poor healthcare. Self harm continues to break record levels.
 
"These figures begin to show the impact of a prison system operating mass solitary confinement. The high number of deaths point to the frustration and despair of those faced with inhumane living conditions and highly restrictive regimes. We anxiously await figures for self harm from this period. It is already clear that the MOJ’s failure to radically reduce the prison population is risking lives, and will leave a lasting legacy of physical and mental ill health of people in prison.”

There is overwhelming international consensus from bodies including the World Health Organisation, The Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that the only way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and minimise risks to people detained, frontline staff and the wider community, is to reduce the number of people in detention.

* The Safety in Custody statistics are available here

* INQUEST https://www.inquest.org.uk/

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