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31 Jan 2019

Shocking rise in deaths in custody

  • The number of prisoners who died by suicide rose by 31% in 2018
  • Overall deaths in custody rose by 10% in 2018
  • Assaults increase by 20% in the 12 months to September 2018
  • Assaults on staff rise by 29%
  • Incidents of self-injury increase by 23% 

325 people died in prisons in England and Wales last year, figures seen by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal today (Thursday 31 January).

They included 92 men and women who lost their lives through suicide – a 31 per cent rise compared to 2017.

A statistical bulletin published by the Ministry of Justice shows that 162 people in prison were found to have died of natural causes. Investigations into a further 67 cases remain either unresolved or incomplete, with further information awaited. There were four homicides.

Eleven women died in prison in 2018, up from eight the previous year. They included three women who lost their lives through suicide.

The figures show that prisons in England and Wales recorded 52,814 incidents of self-injury in the 12 months to the end of September 2018 – at a rate of one every ten minutes.

Over the same period, prisons recorded a total of 33,803 assault incidents. This included 10,085 assaults on staff – a 29 per cent rise compared to the figure recorded for the 12 months to the end of September 2017.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “No one should be so desperate while in the care of the state that they decide to take their own life. It is a national scandal that the number of prisoners losing their lives through suicide has risen again.

“Particularly concerning is the growing number of people, including several men in their twenties, who have died in as yet unexplained circumstances. One cannot begin to imagine the pain this is causing to grieving families who still do not know how or why their loved ones died.

“Ministers have announced their intention to reform sentencing, and the harrowing statistics published today show why action is needed so urgently. Bold steps to further reduce the prison population would save lives, protect staff and prevent more people being swept into deeper currents of crime, violence and despair.”

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 at:
  1. The Ministry of Justice statistical bulletins, Safety in custody quarterly: update to September 2018 can be found online at:


Andrew Neilson
Director of Campaigns
Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7880
Mobile: +44 (0)7918 681 094

ISDN line available on 020 7923 4196 – uses a G722 system

For enquiries outside normal office hours, please call +44 (0)7918 681094

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