28 January 2021 

The Ministry of Justice has today (28 January 2021released the latest statistics on deaths and self-harm in prison in England and Wales. The overall number of deaths in prison is rising. The most recent quarter saw the number of deaths increase to 109, a rise of 70% from 64 in the three months to September 2020. 

In the 12 months to December 2020 there were a total of 318 deaths of people in prison, representing six deaths every week. With four deaths per 1,000 prisoners, the year saw the second highest rate of deaths since records began more than 40 years ago. Plus the highest ever rate of deaths recorded as ‘natural causes’ at 2.6 per 1,000 prisoners.  

Of these deaths: 

  • 207 deaths were classed as ‘natural causes’, though INQUEST casework and monitoring shows many of these deaths are premature and far from ‘natural’.This is an 18% increase from the previous 12 months. 
  • 67 deaths were self-inflicted, a decrease of 21%from the previous 12 months. 
  • 42 deaths were recorded as ‘other’, 32 of whichawait  

Seventy-one of the deaths occurred within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test, of which 51 are suspected to be due to Covid-19. Seven of the deaths were in women’s prisons, five of which were ‘natural cause’ and two were self-inflicted. Nine of the deaths were of young people aged 18-24. There were also two homicides. 

In the 12 months ending September 2020, there was a welcome overall decrease in self-harm in men's prisons, down 7% from the previous year but remaining at historically high levels. However self-harm in women’s prisons continued to rise to the highest ever levels. There was an overall annual increase of 8%, with 11,482 incidents of self-harm. Self-harm incidents requiring hospital attendance increased by 35% to 331 in women’s prisons. 

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST, said: “These statistics represent hundreds of people suffering in extreme conditions in prisons. The Government ignored experts calling for largescale early releases to protect people in prison from Covid-19. We are beginning to see the devastating impacts of that decision. Unless radical action is taken, we fear the worst is yet to come.  

The reduction in self-inflicted deaths from historically high levels is welcome. However, indefinite solitary confinement is the harrowing reality for men, women and children across the prison estate. This will have serious consequences for both mental and physical health.   

In the short-term urgent action is needed to ensure people in prison have access to healthcare, and restrictions are eased as soon as possible. In the long term, we need a dramatic reduction of the prison population and more investment in communities.  

The continuing rise in self-harm in women’s prisons comes at a time when the Ministry of Justice has announced 500 new prison places for women. Sadly, this will mean yet more unnecessary suffering and harm.”    



For further information, interview requests and to note your interest, please contact [email protected] or leave a voicemail on 020 7263 1111 (option 3). 

The Safety in Custody statistics are available here

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) 

See also: INQUEST data on deaths in prison custody, 2010-2020. 

Rate of deaths in prison: 

The highest ever rate of deaths in prison was recorded in 2016 at 4.15 deaths per 1,000 prisoners. Records began in 1978. See Ministry of Justice data tables on Deaths in Prison Custody, 1978 to 2020 for more information.  

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