May 2018

Still Dying on the Inside highlights the lack of action from successive governments to prevent deaths and puts forward a series of recommendations to close women’s prisons by redirecting resources from criminal justice to community-based services.

94 women have died in prison since the 2007 publication of Baroness Corston’s ground-breaking review of women in the criminal justice system. 2016 was the deadliest year on record with 22 deaths in women’s prisons.

Still Dying on the Inside reframes deaths in custody as a form of violence against women, given many women’s experiences of domestic violence, abuse and trauma. The report identifies serious safety failures inside prisons around self-harm and suicide management and inadequate healthcare provision. It also highlights the lack of action on recommendations arising from post-death investigations and inquests.

Deborah Coles, Executive Director of INQUEST said: “Since the Corston Review, there has been little systemic change and for far too many women, prison remains a disproportionate and inappropriate response. The persistence and repetition of the same issues over an eleven-year period reveals nothing less than a glaring failure of government to act.

“While Ministers continue to drag their heels on the women’s justice strategy, which was due in 2017, women continue to die. Government must work across health, social care and justice departments to dismantle failing women’s prisons and invest in specialist women’s services.”

Lynne Roscoe, grandmother of Emily Hartley who died in HMP New Hall in 2016 said: “Emily was struggling with her mental health from her early teens. She was sent to prison after she had a psychotic episode and set fire to herself, her mattress and curtains. There are many others like Emily who find it hard to cope with an illness. They need care and support, not a prison sentence.”

Marilyn Reed, mother of Sarah Reed who died in HMP Holloway in 2016 said: “If Sarah had received the right care and support, rather than punishment, then she would still be alive. The whole system has to change so that other women don’t die.”

Key INQUEST recommendations in the report:

  • Redirect resources from criminal justice to welfare, health, housing and social care.
  • Divert women away from the criminal justice system.
  • Halt prison building and commit to an immediate reduction in the prison population.
  • Review sentencing decisions and policy.
  • An urgent review of the deaths of women following release from prison.
  • Ensure access to justice and learning for bereaved families.
  • Build a national oversight mechanism for implementing official recommendations.


In June 2019, INQUEST provided an update to this report, reflecting on the cases and figures for 2019.