Deaths in prison hit record levels

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Last year saw a record 354 deaths in prison custody, according to figures from the Ministry of Justice – an increase of nearly 100 from the previous year. Almost 120 were self-inflicted deaths, including 12 women, while three were homicides.

The rate of prison suicides has now doubled since 2012, says the document, while self-harm incidents also increased by nearly 7,000 to a record high of 37,784. Assault incidents were also up by more than 30 per cent, to another record high of 25,049 – almost 3,400 of which were classed as serious. Assaults on staff increased by 40 per cent, to almost 6,500, while prisoner-on-prisoner violence was up by 28 per cent to more than 18,500 incidents. Serious assaults on staff have trebled since 2012.

Responding to the statistics, justice secretary Liz Truss said that the government had taken action to ‘stabilise the estate by tackling the drugs, drones and phones that undermine security. These are long-standing issues that will not be resolved in weeks or months but our wholescale reforms will lay the groundwork to transform our prisons, reduce reoffending and make our communities safer.’

‘It is official – more people died in prisons in 2016 than in any other year on record, and more prisoners died by suicide than ever before,’ said chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, Frances Crook. ‘No one should be so desperate while in the care of the state that they take their own life, and yet every three days a family is told that a loved one has died behind bars. Cutting staff and prison budgets while allowing the number of people behind bars to grow unchecked has created a toxic mix of violence, death and human misery.’

Safety in custody statistics bulletin, England and Wales, deaths in prison custody to December 2016, assaults and self-harm to September 2016 at www.gov.uk

Last year saw a record number of deaths in custody, many of them self-inflicted.

 See feature in February’s DDN