25 October 2018

The Ministry of Justice has today (25 October 2018) released the latest statistics on deaths and self-harm in prison custody and deaths of people (‘offenders’) in the community after release from prison. Both sets of data show a rise in deaths, as numbers remain at historically high levels.

INQUEST casework and monitoring identifies repeated and systemic failings around communication, emergency responses, drugs and wider issues of mental ill-health and healthcare provision in prison. Less is known about the issues surrounding deaths of people on probation, which receive significantly less scrutiny.

The key findings on deaths in prison include:

  • An 8% rise in deaths in custody, with 328 total deaths in the 12 months to September 2018. Overall deaths are at historically high levels, as detailed in INQUEST’s rolling statistics.
  • 87 of these deaths were self-inflicted, 4 of which were women.
  • There were 68 deaths recorded as ‘other’, which await classification. This is more than double the 30 deaths recorded as ‘other’ in the 12 months to September 2017, and 33 ‘other’ deaths the year before.

Additionally, self-harm in prison continues to rise, with a 20% rise in incidents from the previous year. Assaults and serious assaults have reached record levels, both on prisoners and staff.

The data on ‘Deaths of Offenders in the Community’ looks at deaths of people supervised by the probation service both on post-release supervision and serving court orders. It shows there were 955 deaths of people on probation in the community in 2017-18. The comparable figure in 2010 was 110. The majority of deaths (659) were of people supervised by Community Rehabilitation Companies, a rise of 24%.

30% of the latest deaths of people under supervision were self-inflicted, 31% defined as natural causes and 26% remain unclassified. Rebecca Roberts, Head of Policy at INQUEST wrote a recent analysis of deaths in the community, considering what the issues surrounding these deaths are.

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST said: "Self-inflicted deaths, homicides, self-harm, drugs and assaults are endemic in the prison system.  This reflects a system in crisis, failing in its duty of care to staff and prisoners. At a time when scrutiny on prisons has never been higher, the prison system is failing

Short term fixes are not working. Ministerial focus on violence ignores the shocking death toll in our prisons, and the need for a radical overhaul. We need to tackle sentencing policy, reduce the prison population and redirect resources to community services.

INQUEST is increasingly concerned about unclassified deaths, which have more than doubled this year. We urgently need to understand why. Deaths of people following release from prison and being supervised by CRCs are also rising. There is a resounding silence surrounding these deaths, which need and deserve proper scrutiny and investigation.”

Mark Saunders, father of Dean Saunders who died in HMP Chelmsford in 2016 said: Nearly 3 years ago when we lost our son Dean Saunders in HMP Chelmsford. We were told lessons would be learnt from the failings, and recommendations were put forward.

Year after year, death after death those lessons are NOT learnt, and the recommendations are not followed. There is no point recruiting new staff into such a broken system, you need to start again from its very foundations.

Words such as ‘lessons learnt’ are hollow and shallow and bring no comfort to families, when they are not followed through.”



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

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

  • There have been an additional 41 deaths in prison since 1 September 2018 – 24 October 2018. Of these deaths, 15 were self-inflicted, 15 are awaiting classification and 11 were non self-inflicted.
  • Since October 2017, HMP Nottingham, HMP Exeter, HMP Birmingham, HMP Bedford have all been issued with Urgent Notifications by the Inspectorate of Prisons