27 January 2022 

The Ministry of Justice has today (27 January 2022) released the latest statistics on deaths and self-harm in prison in England and Wales. This time last year INQUEST predicted that, in the midst of a second wave of Covid-19, the worst was yet to come. Sadly, the government did not act and we were proven right. 

In the 12 months to December 2021 there were a total of 371 deaths of people in prison, representing the highest annual number of deaths ever recorded, with more than one death a day. This is despite recent reductions in the prison population. There were 4.7 deaths per 1,000 prisoners, also representing the highest ever rate of deaths. 

Of these deaths:  

  • 250 deaths were classed as ‘natural causes’, though INQUEST casework and monitoring shows many of these deaths are premature and far from ‘natural’. This is a 13% increase from the previous 12 months. 
  • 86 deaths were self-inflicted, an increase of 28% from the previous 12 months.  
  • 34 deaths were recorded as ‘other’, of which 4 were ‘non-natural’ and 30 await classification.  
  • There was also one homicide. 

Of these, six of the deaths were in women’s prisons, three of which were ‘natural cause’ and three await classification. Younger people were most likely to die self-inflicted deaths in prison, and 69% of all deaths of people aged between 18 and 39 were self-inflicted deaths in 2021. 

The statistics published today also include data on ethnicity, however it offers inadequate information and analysis. 

The longer-term data shows that, even without accounting for Covid-19 related deaths, this year and the past five years have seen the highest ever numbers and rates of deaths in prison. 

Since the pandemic began in March 2020 to 31 December 2021, this report notes that 177 people in prison died within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test. With INQUEST’s own data we estimate that 98 of these deaths were in 2021.  

INQUEST’s casework and monitoring also shows the highest number of self-inflicted and non-‘natural’ deaths took place in HMP Wandsworth and HMP Altcourse (see notes). 

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST, said: “This time last year we said: we fear the worst is yet to come. Sadly, we were right. Despite what could have been learned from the first wave of the pandemic, the Government allowed yet more people to die in prison. But the pandemic alone cannot explain away this record level of deaths. 

These statistics represent the serious consequences of highly restrictive regimes on people’s mental and physical health. They also reflect the continuation of a harmful and dangerous prison system, and criminal justice policies which use prison as the response to social problems. 

In the short-term urgent action is needed to ensure people in prison have access to healthcare and adequate support. In the long term, we need a dramatic reduction of the prison population and more investment in radical community alternatives. 

The Government’s latest White Paper on prisons continues to ignore the evidence and favour building more prison places and allowing these needless deaths and harms.”     




For further information please contact [email protected].

The Safety in Custody statistics are available hereSee also: INQUEST data on deaths in prison custody, 2011-2021. 

In 2021 the worst prisons for self-inflicted and non-self-inflicted deaths, according to data from INQUEST’s casework and monitoring, were: 

  • HMP Wandsworth – nine deaths in total, of which seven were self-inflicted and two await classification 
  • HMP Altcourse – nine deaths in total, of which four were self-inflicted and five were ‘natural cause’ (including at least one after a positive test for Covid-19) 
  • There were also three self-inflicted deaths (among others) in HMP Pentonville, HMP Cardiff, HMP Exeter, HMP Swaleside, HMP Hewell, and HMP Chelmsford. 

For more information and summaries of the circumstances of deaths of people in prison, see our report Deaths in prison: A national scandal (January 2021) and latest Media Releases on prison cases. 

Previous research has shown that the rate of deaths relating to Covid-19 was over three times the rate of comparative people in the general population, despite restricted regimes. 

Please refer to the Samaritans Media Guidelines for reporting suicide and self-harm.