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27 Jul 2023

Self-harm incidents in women’s prisons rise to highest level since current recording practices began in 2004

Deaths, self-harm and violence have risen in prisons in England and Wales over the past 12 months, with self-harm incidents in women’s jails increasing by 52 per cent to the highest level since current recording practices began in 2004, official data seen by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal today (Thursday 27 July).

A statistical bulletin, published by the Ministry of Justice, shows that 313 people in prison died in the 12 months to the end of June 2023. They included 88 people who died in circumstances recorded as “self-inflicted”.

Prisons recorded 59,722 incidents of self-harm in the 12 months to the end of March 2023, at a rate of one every nine minutes. Self-harm incidents fell by one per cent in men’s prisons but rose drastically by 52 per cent in women’s prisons.

Over the same period, prisons recorded 22,319 assaults – an 11 per cent rise on the figures for the previous 12 months.

The figures were published on the same day as Ministry of Justice annual prison performance ratings, which reveal that the performance of nine prisons is “of serious concern”.

The nine jails to receive a score of ‘1’ – the lowest-possible performance rating – are: Bedford; Bristol; Deerbolt; Foston Hall; Isis; Long Lartin; Styal; Wandsworth; and Whitemoor. They include two maximum-security prisons (Long Lartin and Whitemoor) and two women’s prisons (Foston Hall and Styal).

Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.), Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “It may be a cliché to say that prisons are in crisis, but the news today paints a truly appalling picture of tragedy.

“If prisons were a more visible public service, like schools or hospitals, the government would be under huge pressure to turn them around. As things stand, ministers seem prepared to carry on cramming more and more people into jails that are already over-burdened and under-resourced, hoping that the public will continue to look the other way.

“That hope is misplaced. When prisons are allowed to decay to such an extent that self-harm reaches record levels, while deaths and violent incidents continue to rise, it puts strain on other public services upon which we all rely. It leads to more crime, and more problems for us to solve.

“The Howard League has been raising the alarm for years, and we will keep doing so. Sensible steps to reduce the prison population are imperative to save lives and reduce crime.”

The rise in self-harm incidents in prisons


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. All Howard League correspondence and materials about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the criminal justice system can be found on the charity’s website at:
  4. The Ministry of Justice statistical bulletin, Safety in custody: quarterly update to March 2023, can be accessed online at:
  5. The Ministry of Justice annual prison performance ratings can be accessed online at:



Noor Khan

Press and Public Affairs Officer

Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7873



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