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30 Apr 2020

Self-injury in prisons continues to rise

Self-injury continues to rise in prisons in England and Wales, with incidents recorded at a rate of one every eight minutes last year, figures seen by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal today (Thursday 30 April).

A statistical bulletin published by the Ministry of Justice shows that prisons recorded 63,328 incidents of self-injury in 2019 – a 14 per cent rise from the previous year.

Over the same period, 32,669 assaults were recorded ­– one every 16 minutes. This is a 4 per cent reduction on the figures for 2018.

The bulletin states that 286 people died in prison custody in the 12 months to the end of March 2020. They included 80 people who lost their lives through suicide.

The figures were published on the day that a report by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture found that prisons were unsafe and overcrowded, with staff having beaten compliant prisoners and children unable to get proper food.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The government’s own figures, from before the coronavirus lockdown began, reveal the sheer scale of human misery behind bars across England and Wales. Assaults may be falling but the restricted regimes imposed have caused further surges in the numbers of self-injury incidents.

“Since then prison regimes have tightened even further. But these figures show that keeping prisoners safe during the pandemic involves so much more than seeking to reduce rates of infection.

“The need to reduce the prison population could not be clearer. It is intolerable that prisoners should be spending 23 hours or more each day locked in cells, either in overcrowded conditions or prolonged solitary confinement, with nothing to do.”

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 dying by 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 bulletin: December 2019, can be found online.
  4. The report by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture can be found on the Council of Europe website.


Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955

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