Skip Content

26 Oct 2017

Fewer people are dying in prison, but assaults and self-injury have soared to new record highs

Fewer people are dying in prison, but prisoners are hurting themselves and each other more than ever before, worrying figures seen by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal today (Thursday 26 October).

Official statistics, published by the Ministry of Justice, show that the numbers of assaults and incidents of self-injury have again risen to record highs in prisons in England and Wales.

There were 27,193 assaults during the 12 months to the end of June 2017 – a 14 per cent increase on the previous year. Assaults on staff rose by 25 per cent to 7,437.

Prisons recorded 41,103 self-injury incidents during the 12 months to the end of June 2017 – a 12 per cent rise from the previous year. Incidents requiring hospital attendance rose by 9 per cent. This is the sixth successive quarter when incidents of self-injury have reached their highest level on record.

The figures show that 300 people died in prisons during the 12 months to the end of September 2017, down from 324 during the previous year.

They included 77 people who lost their lives through suicide – 72 in men’s prisons and five in women’s prisons. This is a fall from the previous year, when a total of 110 people lost their lives through suicide.

Figures published today on prison disciplinary hearings – known as adjudications – support recent Howard League research, which has found that prisons are increasingly resorting to draconian measures to punish rule-breaking in a desperate attempt to maintain control.

Almost 47,000 adjudication outcomes were recorded between April and June 2017, of which 5,581 resulted in the imposition of additional days’ imprisonment – a 30 per cent increase on the same quarter in 2016.

The sharp rise in impositions of additional days’ imprisonment piles more pressure on the prison system. It increases the prison population and worsens overcrowding, which in turn creates conditions for drug abuse, violence and other types of misbehaviour.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “It is extremely worrying that ministers have announced the roll-out of more weaponry for staff, when these figures reveal that the most disturbing problem in prisons is an epidemic level of self-injury and distress. You cannot create a safe environment and alleviate distress by weaponising staff.

“The fall in the number of people dying in prison is encouraging, but there is no room for complacency when it remains the case that a prisoner dies by suicide every five days.

“I am meeting the Secretary of State soon, and I will urge him to take immediate and decisive action to relieve pressure on the prison system. Reducing the number of people in prison would save lives, 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.
  1. The Ministry of Justice’s statistical bulletin, Safety in Custody Statistics, England and Wales, can be viewed online.
  1. The Ministry of Justice’s statistical bulletin, Offender Management Statistics Quarterly: April to June 2017, can be viewed online.
  1. Out of Control: Punishment in Prison, a Howard League research briefing on adjudications, can be viewed on the charity’s website.


Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7880
Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955

ISDN line available on 020 7923 4196 – uses a G722 system

For enquiries outside normal office hours, please call +44 (0)7918 681094

  • Join the Howard League

    We are the world's oldest prison charity, bringing people together to advocate for change.

    Join us and make your voice heard
  • Support our work

    We safeguard our independence and do not accept any funding from government.

    Make a donation