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27 Apr 2023

Self-harm incidents rise by more than a third in women’s prisons

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 37 per cent, official data seen by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal today (Thursday 27 April).

A statistical bulletin, published by the Ministry of Justice, shows that prisons recorded 55,264 self-harm incidents in the 12 months to the end of December 2022 – a rate of one every nine-and-a-half minutes. They included 16,140 in women’s prisons and 39,124 in men’s prisons (a reduction of six per cent). The figures show that, although women make up only four per cent of the prison population, they account for 29 per cent of all recorded self-harm incidents.

Over the same period, the number of assault incidents rose by seven per cent to 20,993 – a rate of one every 25 minutes.

The bulletin reveals that 322 people died in prison custody in the year to March 2023 – an increase of 12 per cent. They included 82 people whose deaths were recorded as “self-inflicted”, up from 79 during the previous 12 months.

Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.), Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “These tragic statistics reveal the enormity of the challenge in prisons that the new Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk, has inherited.

“A 37 per cent increase in self-harm incidents in women’s prisons is truly alarming. Although the number of assaults recorded is not yet as high as we saw before the pandemic, it appears to be rising fast. With jails now so crowded that people are being held in police cells, clearly the system is becoming less and less safe.

“The government must respond urgently, and it should begin by ending its plan to expand the prison population. It makes no sense to be building more jails when there are not enough staff to safely run the ones we already have.”

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.
  3. The Ministry of Justice statistical bulletin, Safety in custody: quarterly update to December 2022, can be accessed online.



Noor Khan

Press and Public Affairs Officer

Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7873



Charity Number: 251926

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