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25 Apr 2019

Self-injury and assaults in prisons rise to new record levels

The Howard League for Penal Reform has called on the government to bring forward its plans for sentencing reform as figures reveal that self-injury and assaults in prison rose to new record levels last year.

A statistical bulletin published today (Thursday 25 April) by the Ministry of Justice shows that prisons in England and Wales recorded 55,598 incidents of self-injury in 2018 – at a rate of one every nine-and-a-half minutes.

Over the same period, prisons recorded a total of 34,223 assault incidents. This included 10,213 assaults on staff – a 21 per cent rise on the previous year.

The figures show that 317 people died in prison custody in the 12 months to March 2019, including 87 people who lost their lives through suicide. There were three homicides.

Prisons recorded fewer incidents of self-injury and assaults between October and December 2018 than during the previous three-month period, from July to September, but it is too early to tell if this represents a significant downward trend. A similar reduction was recorded in the corresponding months in 2017, only for the numbers to rise again.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Today’s figures reveal the sheer scale of the challenge to transform a prison system that has been overburdened and under-resourced for years. Change is happening, but it is like trying to turn around an oil tanker.

“I welcome the government’s efforts to reduce violence, including recruiting more staff to increase numbers and refresh the workforce, but fundamental reform is being stymied by the lack of parliamentary time available for legislation.

“I believe the will is there among ministers to make prisons safe and to reduce their unnecessary use, but in the end, lives can only be saved and violence reduced if the nettle of reform is grasped.”

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.
  1. The Howard League and another charity, Centre for Mental Health, worked together on a joint programme on preventing people dying by suicide in prison. Further information about the programme can be found on the Howard League website.
  1. The Ministry of Justice statistical bulletin, Safety in custody quarterly update to December 2018, can be found online.


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