SELF-INFLICTED deaths in prisons in England and Wales have risen by almost a quarter in the last year, with self-harm and assaults also on the rise, official data released by the Ministry of Justice reveals.

A statistical bulletin, published on 25 January, shows that 311 people in prison died in the 12 months to the end of December 2023. They included 93 people who died in circumstances recorded as “self-inflicted”, a significant increase of 22 per cent on the previous year.

Prisons recorded 67,773 incidents of self-harm in the 12 months to the end of September 2023, at a rate of one every seven minutes. This is an increase of 17 per cent. Self-harm incidents rose by 11 per cent in men’s prisons and by a huge 38 per cent in women’s prisons, to the highest level in the time series.

Over the same period, prisons recorded 25,223 assaults – a 14 per cent rise on the figures for the previous 12 months.

Sonya Ruparel, CEO of Women in Prison, commented: “Prison is not a safe place for women. Today’s deeply concerning statistics show the escalating mental health crisis going on behind women’s prison doors. The Government needs to take this seriously and take urgent action to stop rates of self-harm from continuing to rise.

“It doesn’t have to be like this. When women are in the community, they can get the support they need to tackle the issues that draw them into crime in the first place, like domestic abuse and mental ill- health. We are calling on the Government to radically reduce the number of women in prison and invest in health, housing and welfare services so women can be supported in the community and not be swept up into the dead end of the criminal justice system.”

Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.), Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “At the very least, we should expect prisons to be safe and decent. That is the mark of a civilised country. Yet as we head into what is almost certainly a general election year, these latest statistics on safety in custody lay bare the dreadful state of our prisons. Let us be clear: people’s lives are at stake.

“Nowhere is the dramatic decline in safety starker than in women’s prisons, where rates of self-harm are now ten times higher in female establishments than in male establishments. A change of course is desperately required. We are currently imprisoning almost 5,000 more people than we did at the same time last year and prison numbers are projected to rise even further. Rather than preside over a system that inflates human misery, we need to see sensible measures introduced to reduce the prison population and save lives.”

* Read the full Safety in Custody statistics here.

* Sources: Howard League for Penal Reform  and Women in Prison