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28 Jan 2021

Howard League responds to prison safety statistics

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to official statistics, published today (Thursday 28 January), which reveal that the number of people dying in prison 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 8 per cent rise on the number of people who died in 2019. They included 67 people 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 5 per cent compared to the previous 12 months, although the number of incidents recorded in women’s prisons rose by 8 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.”

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 losing their lives through suicide in prison. Further information about the programme can be found on the Howard League website.
  3. Children in prison during the Covid-19 pandemic, a briefing by the Howard League, can be downloaded from the charity’s website.
  4. Young Adults in prison during the Covid-19 pandemic, a briefing by the Howard League, can be downloaded from the charity’s website.
  5. The Ministry of Justice statistical bulletin, Safety in custody Statistics, England and Wales: Deaths in Prison Custody to December 2020 Assaults and Self-harm to September 2020, can be found online.
  6. The Ministry of Justice statistical bulletin, Offender management statistics quarterly: July to September 2020. can be found online.


Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955

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