THE HOWARD LEAGUE FOR PENAL REFORM has responded to new official statistics which reveal that the number of people dying in prison in England and Wales has increased, while recorded incidents of self-injury and assaults have fallen.

The statistical bulletin, published by the Ministry of Justice, shows that 318 people died in prison custody in 2020 – an eight per cent rise on the number of people who died in 2019. They included 67 who lost their lives through suicide.

The bulletin states that prisons recorded 58,870 incidents of self-injury in the 12 months to the end of September 2020, at a rate of one every nine minutes. This represents an overall reduction of five per cent compared to the previous 12 months, although the number of incidents recorded in women’s prisons rose by eight per cent. Over the same period, prisons recorded 24,407 assaults – a 27 per cent reduction on the figures for the previous 12 months.

For much of the reporting period, prisons have been running severely restricted regimes in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Tens of thousands of people have spent hours on end inside their cells, often in conditions of solitary confinement. The Howard League has published briefings showing the impact that the restrictions have had on people in prison, including children and young adults.

The safety in custody figures were published alongside another statistical bulletin showing that the number of people held in prison on remand has risen by 24 per cent over the past year. At the end of 2020, there were 12,066 people in prison on remand – the highest number at the end of a calendar year since 2011.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is a worrying time for everyone, but particularly for people living and working in prisons and their families. The rising number of people who have lost their lives is the most tragic indication of a system that is under great strain during the pandemic.

“The apparent fall in overall levels of self-injury and violence is of course to be welcomed, although the cost has been inhumane prison regimes which are untenable in the long run. And while men’s prisons have found some measure of respite through lockdown measures, the increase in self-injury in women’s prisons is stark and extremely concerning. The mental distress caused by isolation can affect people in many different ways, some of which may not be evident for months or years. To see the number of prisoners on remand increase by almost a quarter during the pandemic is both grossly unfair and dangerous.”

* Safety in Custody Statistics, England and Wales: Deaths in Prison Custody to December 2020 Assaults and Self-harm to September 2020 published here.

* Offender management statistics quarterly: July to September 2020 (Detailed quarterly statistics on offenders in custody) published here.

Source: Howard League for Penal Reform