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26 Oct 2023

Howard League responds to safety in custody statistics 

Self-harm incidents in women’s jails have soared by almost two-thirds in the last year, with assaults and deaths in circumstances recorded as self-inflicted also on the rise across the prison system, official data seen by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal today (26 October 2023).

A statistical bulletin, published by the Ministry of Justice, shows that prisons in England and Wales recorded 64,348 incidents of self-harm in the 12 months to the end of June 2023 – at a rate of one every eight minutes. The number went up by eight per cent in men’s prisons and by 65 per cent in women’s prisons.

Over the same period, prisons recorded 23,557 assaults – a 15 per cent rise on figures for the previous 12 months.

The figures show that 304 people in prison died in the 12 months to the end of September 2023, they include 92 who died in circumstances recorded as “self-inflicted” – a 24 per cent increase.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is the first ‘safety in custody’ statistical bulletin to be published since the escape from Wandsworth prison last month. It reveals how pressure on people living and working in our overcrowded and under-resourced prison system has been allowed to build and build.  

“Recent government announcements about introducing early release and limiting the use of short sentences may start to ease that pressure. When self-inflicted deaths behind bars have risen by almost a quarter, the need for a change of direction is clear. 

“It is also concerning that women’s self-harm is rocketing when, proportionally, the numbers of women in prison are rising more quickly than men. In the circumstances, it is imperative that the Ministry of Justice reduces the number of women suffering in prison.” 


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. Prison population figures published last week by the Ministry of Justice showed that the number of men in prison had risen by 7.5 per cent in the last year, from 78,624 to 84,504, while the number of women in prison had risen by 11.7 per cent, from 3,242 to 3,622:  
  4. The Ministry of Justice statistical bulletin, Safety in custody quarterly bulletin: June 2023, can be accessed online at:  



Noor Khan 

Press and Public Affairs Officer 

Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7873 



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