31 January 2019

The Ministry of Justice has today (31 January 2019) released the latest Safety in Custody statistics on deaths and self-harm in prison, highlighting a 31% rise in self-inflicted deaths in the 12 months to December 2018.  This continues the historically high level of deaths in prison seen in the past five years.

The key statistics include:

  • In total there were 325 deaths, a 10% overall increase.
  • 92 were self-inflicted deaths, up from 70 in the previous year.
  • There were 162 deaths which the MOJ describe as due to “natural causes”.
  • Levels of self-harm have reached a new record high, a rise of 23%. Incidents requiring hospital attendance increased by 4%.

Analysis of INQUEST casework shows that recent inquests on deaths in prison reveal repeated and systemic failings around self-harm and suicide risk management (known as ACCT procedures), drug prescribing processes, communication, record keeping, inadequate healthcare and procedural failures and delays.

In 2018, there were also 67 deaths recorded as ‘other’, 54 of which are ‘awaiting further information’ prior to being classified. There has been an increasing number of unclassified deaths in recent years.  

INQUEST casework and monitoring shows that an unacceptable number of so called “natural cause” deaths are in fact the result of poor healthcare in prison. This was echoed Parliament’s Health and Social Care Committee in November 2018 who reported that ‘so-called natural cause deaths too often reflect serious lapses in care’. 

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST said: "The Government have long been on notice about the perilous state of our prisons, and yet historically high numbers of deaths are allowed to continue. This is a national scandal. How many more deaths will it take before the Government and prison service face up to their duties of care for the health, safety and welfare of prisoners?

Quick fixes have not worked. Bold and decisive action is needed to tackle sentencing policy, reduce the prison population and redirect resources to community services. This is the only way to stem the rising toll of deaths, self-harm and assaults that detrimentally impact on everyone in the prison estate.”



For further information, please contact Lucy McKay or 020 7263 1111 or email

INQUEST publishes rolling statistics on deaths in prison, available here. These statistics are reported by calendar year, from now to 1990.

See recent media releases on inquest conclusions on deaths in prison here.