Latest Ministry of Justice figures* reveal an increase in suicides and self-harm in prisons, which a charity says are due in part to poor healthcare in the penal system.
In the 12 months up to March 2019 there were 317 deaths in prison, up from 299 the previous year. Of these, 87 were self-inflicted deaths, up from 73 in the previous year. In women’s prisons, there were four self-inflicted deaths, up from one death in the previous 12 months.
Recorded incidents of self-harm in prison have more than doubled in 10 years from 25,234 incidents in 2008 to 52,598 in 2018.
There are 152 recorded incidents of self-harm in prison every day and levels of self-harm in the 12 months to December 2018 have reached a new record high, a rise of 25%. Self-harm incidents requiring hospital attendance are also at a record high and have increased by 5%.
Inquest, the charity which supports families bereaved by state-related deaths, has analysed casework files and coroner’s reports and says that recent inquests on deaths in prison reveal "repeated and systemic" failings around self-harm and suicide risk management (known as ACCT procedures), drug prescribing processes, communication, record keeping, inadequate healthcare and procedural failures and delays.
There were 164 deaths which the Ministry of Justice describe as due to “natural causes”. Inquest says its casework and monitoring shows that an unacceptable number of so called “natural cause” deaths are in fact the result of poor healthcare in prison. This was echoed Parliament’s Health and Social Care Committee in November 2018 who reported that “so-called natural cause deaths too often reflect serious lapses in care”.
Deborah Coles, director of Inquest said: "Every four days, a person in prison takes their own life. Levels of distress have never been higher with more than 152 recorded incidents of self-harm in prison every day.
"The government have long been on notice about the perilous state of our prisons. Yet, life-saving recommendations from inquests and oversight bodies are systematically ignored. That the historically high numbers of deaths are allowed to continue is a national scandal.
"Prison safety cannot be resolved by framing it as a drugs problem or weaponising staff. Punitive responses have not worked and will not work. Bold and decisive action is needed to tackle sentencing policy; reducing prison numbers; and redirecting resources to community services.”
*Safety in custody quarterly: update to December 2018. Figures prepared by Public Health England, 25 April 2019.