The number of suicides in prisons has gone up by nearly 25% in the last year, while incidents of self-harm within prisons have also risen throughout England and Wales.
In the 12 months leading up to September, there were a total of 92 reported cases of prisoner suicide, which marks a 24% rise from the previous year. Data from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) also indicates a rise in self-harm incidents within prisons.
Advocates expressed concern over the “shocking data” that revealed the negative impact of incarceration. They urged for a significant decrease in the number of prisoners, yet government projections indicate the opposite will occur.
In the beginning of this month, the number of people in prison reached its highest point ever at 88,225. The most recent estimates from the government suggest that the number of prisoners will increase to 94,400 by March 2025 and between 93,100 and 106,300 by March 2027.
The justice secretary, Alex Chalk, recently proposed a solution to alleviate overcrowding in prisons by allowing prisoners to be released up to 18 days earlier. This is necessary as two-thirds of prisons are currently considered overcrowded. Due to this issue, prisoners are being forced to share cells meant for one person, resulting in inadequate living conditions such as lack of toilets. This was reported by the Guardian this week.
In the last quarter, there were 304 recorded deaths due to suicide or self-harm in prisons located in England and Wales. This number reflects the 12-month period ending in September.
In the 12-month period ending in June 2023, there were 64,348 instances of self-harm, a 21% increase from the previous year. The number rose by 8% in men’s prisons and significantly by 65% in women’s facilities.
According to a statistician at the Ministry of Justice, the rate of self-harm in female establishments has increased by over 11 times. This is due to a significant rise in the average number of incidents among female self-harmers, from 11.5 to 17.9, which has been a continuing trend for the past six years. In comparison, the average number of incidents in male establishments remained at 4.1.
Rosanna Ellul, policy and parliamentary manager at campaign group Inquest, said: “These appalling statistics are yet another indictment of our unsafe prison system. Yet while these figures should be a sobering reminder of the inherent harms of prison, the government are determined to expand the prison estate by 20,000 places.
“As the number of inmates increases, it is evident that the number of avoidable fatalities in prisons will also rise. Past administrations have not adequately addressed solutions to decrease dependence on incarceration and, consequently, prevent loss of life.”
“Immediate measures must be taken to guarantee healthcare and proper support for individuals in prison. In the long run, there should be a significant decrease in the number of incarcerated individuals and increased funding for alternatives that prevent harm in our society instead of perpetuating it.”
According to Katie Hardcastle, a senior research manager at Samaritans, it is alarming that individuals who have been released from prison or are serving community sentences are six times more likely to die by suicide compared to the general population. This highlights the need for increased support and better follow-up care. Mandatory suicide prevention training should also be provided to all government workers, including probation officers, in order to potentially save lives. It is important to recognize that suicide can be prevented, and this information should serve as a wake-up call.
According to the data from the Ministry of Justice, there has been a rise in violence within prisons, especially for employees. In the previous quarter, from July to September, there were 2,222 reported incidents of staff being assaulted, which marks a 13% increase.
A representative from the Ministry of Justice stated: “Our utmost concern is the well-being of both our staff and prisoners. This is why we make sure that the most at-risk prisoners have continuous access to necessary care and mental health resources.”
“We are dedicatedly working towards safeguarding our diligent employees with a security investment of £100 million, which includes the use of X-ray body scanners, specialized prison dogs, and body-worn cameras.”