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30 Jan 2020

300 people died in prisons in England and Wales last year

Three hundred people died in prisons in England and Wales last year, including 84 who lost their lives through suicide, as self-injury behind bars continued to rise, figures seen by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal today (Thursday 30 January).

A statistical bulletin published by the Ministry of Justice shows that, of the 300 people who died, 165 were deemed to have died from natural causes and 48 from ‘other’ unspecified causes. There were three homicides.

The toll is the third-highest in a calendar year since current recording practices began in 1978.

The number of incidents of self-injury rose to 61,461 in the 12 months to the end of September 2019 – a new record high. This means that prisons in England and Wales recorded an incident of self-injury every eight-and-a-half minutes. Incidents rose by 93 per cent among children and young adults aged 15 to 18.

Over the same period, prisons recorded 33,222 assault incidents – a 2 per cent reduction compared with the previous 12 months.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “No one should be so desperate while in the care of the state that they decide to take their own life. It is shameful that 84 more people have died by suicide, and thousands more have injured themselves, as we continue to place intolerable demands upon the prison system.

“For the second year running, a large number of people have died from unspecified causes, most likely in circumstances connected to the scourge of drugs behind bars, and this is an emerging scandal that needs investigating.

“Spending money solely on additional security measures is not going to save lives. Sensible steps to reduce the prison population are the way forward to protect staff and prevent more people being swept into deeper currents of crime, violence and despair.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  2. The Howard League and another charity, Centre for Mental Health, worked together on a joint programme on preventing people dying by suicide in prison. Further information about the programme can be found on the Howard League website.
  3. The Ministry of Justice statistical bulletin, Safety in custody quarterly bulletin: September 2019, can be found online.


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