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25 Jan 2024

Howard League responds to safety in custody statistics

Self-inflicted deaths in prison have soared by almost a quarter in the last year, with self-harm and assaults also on the rise, official data seen by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal today (25 January 2024).

A statistical bulletin, published by the Ministry of Justice, 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 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.

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.”


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:
  3. The Ministry of Justice statistical bulletin, Safety in custody quarterly bulletin: January 2024 can be accessed online at:
  4. The rate of self-inflicted deaths stayed the same between 2022 to 2023 for White prisoners but increased for prisoners of all other ethnic groups combined. The rise in all other ethnic groups is driven primarily by the Black or Black British ethnic group.



Noor Khan

Press and Public Affairs Officer

Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7873


Charity Number: 251926


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