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25 Apr 2024

Howard League responds to safety in custody statistics 

Self-harm in male and female prisons has soared by a fifth in the last year, but quarterly figures show welcome signs of stabilising, official data seen by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal today (Thursday 25 April 2024).

A statistical bulletin, published by the Ministry of Justice, shows that prisons in England and Wales recorded 70,875 incidents of self-harm in the 12 months to the end of December 2023 – at a rate of one every seven minutes. The rate went up by 24% in men’s prisons and by 11% in women’s prisons, but both decreased by 5% in the most recent quarter.

The increase in self-harm was even higher among people held on remand, those recalled to prison, and those on sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP), with the rate for IPP prisoners increasing 26% on the previous year.

In the same time period, the rate of assaults increased by 20%, but figures from the last quarter show a decrease of 3% in both the number of assaults and the rate.

The figures show that 291 people in prison died in the 12 months to March 2024, a decrease of 10% on the previous 12 months. These include 85 people who died in circumstances recorded as “self-inflicted”.

Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.), Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “That people held in our prisons are driven to self-harm is a tragic and damning indictment of our prison system, made all the more appalling by the huge increase we have seen in the twelve months under review. Nevertheless, there are tentative signs that safety in custody was stabilising towards the end of last year and this is to be welcomed.

“The fact there has been a 26% increase in the rate of self-harm among IPP prisoners is particularly shocking. With the House of Lords due to debate relevant clauses in the Victims and Prisoners Bill next week, the figures are a timely reminder of the undue suffering of people trapped in prison on these sentences, and the urgent need for change.”

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 Statistics, England and Wales: Deaths in Prison Custody to March 2024 Assaults and Self-harm to December 2023, can be accessed online at: Safety in custody: quarterly update to December 2023 – GOV.UK (



Noor Khan

Press and Public Affairs Officer

Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7873


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