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28 Oct 2021

Howard League responds to prison safety statistics

The number of people dying in prison has risen by 40 per cent over the last year as jails across England and Wales have been hit by the spread of Covid-19, official figures seen by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal today (Thursday 28 October).

A statistical bulletin, published by the Ministry of Justice, shows that 396 people died in prison custody in the year to the end of September 2021 – a significant rise compared to the 283 who died during the previous 12 months. They included 81 people who lost their lives through suicide.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The Howard League has called for the deaths of people in the criminal justice system to be included in the inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic.

“Prisons have been largely forgotten during this crisis, but the figures published today reveal the devastation that Covid-19 has brought to people living and working behind bars and their families. A prison is the grimmest place to die.

“The full impact of the pandemic will only become apparent in the years to come. Tens of thousands of people have been held in overcrowded conditions or solitary confinement for months on end. It is almost impossible to fathom the mental distress that this will have caused.”

The bulletin states that prisons recorded 53,290 incidents of self-injury in the 12 months to the end of June 2021, at a rate of one every 10 minutes. This represents an overall reduction of 13 per cent compared to the previous 12 months, but the number of incidents recorded by women’s prisons went up by 2 per cent.

Over the same period, prisons recorded 19,470 assaults – a 30 per cent reduction on the figures for the previous 12 months.

During the pandemic, prisons have run severely restricted regimes. The Howard League has published briefings showing the restrictions’ damaging impact on 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 6 per cent over the past year.

At the end of September 2021, there were 12,990 people in prison awaiting trial or sentence – the highest quarterly figure since September 2011.

The Howard League has launched a project to tackle a surge in the number of children remanded. Figures reveal that children on remand account for more than half of all children in custody – even though about two-thirds of children remanded to custody do not go on to receive a prison sentence.

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 at: https://howardleague.org/our-work/transform-prisons/preventing-deaths-in-prison/inquiry-into-preventing-prison-suicides/
  3. Children in prison during the Covid-19 pandemic, a briefing by the Howard League, can be downloaded from the charity’s website at: https://howardleague.org/publications/children-in-prison-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/
  4. Young Adults in prison during the Covid-19 pandemic, a briefing by the Howard League, can be downloaded from the charity’s website at: https://howardleague.org/publications/young-adults-in-prison-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/
  5. All Howard League correspondence and materials about the impact of the pandemic on the criminal justice system can be found on the charity’s website at: https://howardleague.org/our-response-to-covid-19-and-prisons/
  6. The Howard League has launched a project to tackle a surge in the number of children remanded to custody. More information can be found on the charity’s website at: https://howardleague.org/news/howard-league-project-to-tackle-surging-use-of-remand-among-children-in-custody/
  7. The Ministry of Justice statistical bulletin, Safety in custody quarterly: update to June 2021, can be found online at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/safety-in-custody-quarterly-update-to-june-2021
  8. The Ministry of Justice statistical bulletin, Offender management statistics quarterly: April to June 2021. can be found online at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/offender-management-statistics-quarterly-april-to-june-2021

Contact

Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955
Email: robert.preece@howardleague.org

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