2 May 2018

A new report, Still Dying on the Inside, released today by the charity INQUEST, calls for urgent action to save the lives of women in prison. INQUEST 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:

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



For further information, interview requests and to note your interest, please contact Sarah Uncles at [email protected] or 020 7263 1111.

  1. Download Still Dying on the Inside here.
  2. Use the twitter hashtag #StillDying to follow what is being said about the report.
  3. The report documents the inappropriate use of imprisonment for women with histories of mental ill-health, domestic violence and poverty. Featuring the stories of some of the women who have died, the report provides unique insight into deaths in women’s prisons based on an examination of official data, INQUEST’s research, casework and an analysis of coroners’ reports and jury findings.
  4. The findings of the report will be discussed at a parliamentary meeting in the House of Lords hosted by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC and will be joined by families of women who have died in prison. The meeting will take place in Committee Room G, at 6pm on Tuesday 1st May 2018.
  5. Since the publication of Baroness Corston’s ground-breaking review of women in the criminal justice system in March 2007, there have been 94 deaths in women’s prisons. Of these, 38 were self-inflicted, 48 were non-self-inflicted and 8 await classification. 32 were by hanging.
  6. The report Still Dying on the Inside covers 93 deaths between March 2007 and March 2018. INQUEST has since learned of a self-inflicted death of a woman in April 2018 in HMP Bronzefield, bringing the total number of deaths to 94.
  7. 2016 was the deadliest year on record with 22 deaths in women’s prisons, 12 of which were self-inflicted, seven were non self-inflicted and three await classification.
  8. Between 2010/11 and 2016/17, 116 women died while under probation supervision following release from prison.
  9. The Government was due to publish a new Women’s Justice Strategy in early 2017 and has been subject to multiple delays. It is expected soon but a release date has yet to be announced.
  10. More than half (53%) of women in prison report having experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child compared to 27% of men. Law breaking by women differs markedly from that by men. It is less frequent, and less serious. Women bear the brunt of social, health and economic inequalities; reflected in the fact that 87% of women sentenced to prison are there for non-violent offences, with 40% imprisoned for theft.