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Inquiry into Preventing Prison Suicides

The Howard League for Penal Reform conducted a joint project with Centre for Mental Health on preventing prison suicides

Netting in Wandsworth prison

120 people died by suicide in prison in England and Wales in 2016 – the highest number in a calendar year since current recording practices began in 1978.

120 Number of prisoners who died by suicide in England and Wales in 2016

There were 120 self-inflicted deaths in prison in 2016

Ministry of Justice safety in custody statistics →

Of these 120 self-inflicted deaths, 12 were women – more than double the previous year’s figure. Ten per cent of the deaths by suicide in prison in 2016 were of women, despite women making up less than five per cent of the total prison population.

The remaining 108 self-inflicted deaths were men, representing a 26 per cent increase on the number of male suicides in prison in 2015.

Our work

The Howard League for Penal Reform and Centre for Mental Health worked together on a two year project to prevent prison suicides and bring about change in the criminal justice system.

We published a series of briefing papers which focused on the cost of prison suicide, the experiences of prisoners and prison staff and the impact of prison on mental health and wellbeing. On average a prisoner dies by suicide every three days. The need for urgent action is clear.

Key recommendations

  • Prisons need to become safer, healthier places to reduce suicide risk
  • All prisons need enough staff with the right mix of skills and experience to be able to keep prisoners safe from harm
  • A prison regime should be built around a normal life. People in prison should be able to get up, have a shower and breakfast, occupy themselves productively, exercise and go outdoors
  • The revised IEP scheme is having a detrimental impact on prisoner wellbeing and is incompatible with a healthy, constructive regime.
  • Solitary confinement increases the risk of suicide and is detrimental to health and wellbeing
  • Investigations into self-inflicted deaths in prison must lead to action to reduce risk


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