30 January 2020

Despite significant scrutiny and investment, the latest statistics on deaths in prison published today show the number of deaths remains at a historically high level, while self-harm once again has reached new record levels for the sixth consecutive year. Every four days a person takes their life, and high numbers of ‘natural’ and unclassified deaths are too often found to relate to serious failures in healthcare.

The Ministry of Justice report that in the 12 months to September 2019, self-harm incidents reached a new record high of 61,461 incidents, up 16% from the previous 12 months. This is more than double the number of self-harm incidents than in the same period in 2014 (24,748).

In the 12 months to December 2019 there were a total of 300 deaths in prison, more than five deaths every week. Of these deaths:

  • Eight were in women’s prisons.
  • 84 were self-inflicted.
  • 165 deaths were classed as “natural causes”, though INQUEST casework and monitoring shows many of these deaths are in fact premature and far from ‘natural’.
  • 48 deaths were recorded as ‘other’, 41 of which are awaiting classification.
  • There were also three homicides.

INQUEST’s recent report Deaths in prison: A national scandal (January 2020) offers unique insight and analysis into findings from 61 prison inquests in England and Wales in 2018 and 2019. This revealed that people are consistently dying because of repeated safety failures including in mental and physical healthcare, communication systems, emergency responses, and drugs and medication. The report found that the lack of government action on official recommendations is leading to preventable deaths.

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST, said: “Despite investment and scrutiny, the historical context shows that still more people are dying in prison than ever before. A slight recent reduction in the number of deaths comes alongside unprecedented levels of self-harm. Repeated recommendations of coroners’, the prison ombudsman and inspectorate are systematically ignored.

This is a national scandal and reflects the despair and neglect in prisons. The health and safety of people in prison appears to be very low on the agenda of the new government. Prioritising prison building and punitive policies will only do more harm and exacerbate this already failing system.”



For further information and interview requests please contact INQUEST Communications Team on 020 7263 1111 or [email protected]; [email protected]

Please refer to the Samaritans Media Guidelines for reporting suicide and self-harm. 
See INQUEST data on deaths in prison custody, 2010-2020.

For more information and summaries of the circumstances of deaths in prison, see our report Deaths in prison: A national scandal.