4 August 2020

Yet again, these new figures show prisons are in a perilous state. Every five days a person in prison takes their own life. Others are dying because of poor healthcare. Self harm continues to break record levels. 

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST

New statistics from the Ministry of Justice on 'safety in custody' show the number of deaths of people in prison remains at a historically high level and that self-harm has reached record numbers.

According to INQUEST's analysis every five days a person in prison takes their life and incidents of self-harm are up 11 percent compared to last year, equivalent to 177 incidents per day.

Additionally, in the 12 months to March 2020 self-harm in the children’s estate increased by 51% on the previous year (from 779 to 1,178).

In the 12 months to June 2020, there were a total of 294 deaths of people in prison, around six deaths every week. Of these deaths:

  • Seven were in women’s prisons.
  • 76 were self-inflicted.
  • 179 deaths were classed as ‘natural causes’, though INQUEST casework and monitoring shows many of these deaths are in fact premature and far from ‘natural’.
  • 37 deaths were recorded as ‘other’, 28 of which are awaiting classification.
  • There were also two homicides.

These statistics also show that between March 2020 to the end of June 2020 there have been 26 deaths where the deceased had tested positive for COVID-19. Of these deaths, 23 are suspected to be due to COVID-19 and three believed to be due to other or ‘natural’ causes.

These figures begin to show the impact of a prison system operating mass solitary confinement. The high number of deaths point to the frustration and despair of those faced with inhumane living conditions and highly restrictive regimes.

We anxiously await figures for self harm from this period. It is already clear that the MOJ’s failure to radically reduce the prison population is risking lives, and will leave a lasting legacy of physical and mental ill health of people in prison.

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST

Further coverage:

  • Media release, INQUEST
  • Self-harm in prisons reaches new record high for the seventh year running, Morning Star
  • New statistics on deaths and self-harm 'expose perilous state of prisons' in England, Ekklesia