The number of suicides in prisons in England and Wales has gone up by nearly 25% over the last year, and there has also been a rise in self-harm among inmates.
In the 12 months leading up to September, 92 inmates committed suicide, marking a 24% rise from the previous year, according to data from the Ministry of Justice.
Activists expressed that the alarming statistics demonstrate the inherent negative effects of incarceration and urged for a significant decrease in the number of individuals in prisons.
In the current month, the number of inmates in prisons has reached a record-breaking 88,225. According to the most recent estimates from the government, this number is expected to increase to 94,400 by March 2025 and could potentially reach anywhere between 93,100 and 106,300 by March 2027.
Last week the justice secretary, Alex Chalk, announced a plan to release prisoners up to 18 days early to free up space in prisons, two-thirds of which are officially overcrowded. Many prisoners are now sharing cells designed for one, some of which have no toilets, leaving inmates to defecate in buckets overnight, the Guardian revealed this week.
The most recent quarterly data on fatalities and self-inflicted injuries in prisons within England and Wales indicate that 304 individuals passed away in the span of 12 months, up to September.
In the period of 12 months leading up to June 2023, there were a total of 64,348 cases of self-harm reported, which shows a 21% rise compared to the previous 12 months. This increase was seen in both men’s prisons (8%) and women’s facilities (65%).
According to a statistician from the Ministry of Justice, the rate of self-harm in female prisons has increased by more than 11 times. This is due to a significant rise in the average number of incidents among female prisoners who self-harm, which has increased from 11.5 to 17.9. This trend has been steadily increasing over the past six years. In contrast, the average number of incidents among male prisoners who self-harm has remained at 4.1.
According to Rosanna Ellul, who works as the policy and parliamentary manager for Inquest, these alarming numbers serve as further evidence of the inadequacies of our prison system. Despite this, the government plans to increase the number of prison spaces by 20,000, despite the clear dangers associated with incarceration.
As the number of incarcerated individuals increases, it is expected that the number of avoidable deaths within prisons will also rise. Past administrations have neglected to effectively address ways to decrease dependence on incarceration and, consequently, protect lives.
“In the immediate future, it is crucial to take prompt measures to guarantee healthcare and sufficient support for incarcerated individuals. In the long run, there is a pressing need to significantly decrease the number of individuals in prison and allocate more resources towards preventive measures that address societal harms instead of exacerbating them.”
Katie Hardcastle, a senior manager of research at Samaritans, expressed worry over the fact that individuals leaving prison or with community sentences are six times more likely to die by suicide compared to the general population. She believes that providing more support and better follow-up care, as well as requiring suicide prevention training for government workers such as probation officers, can effectively save lives. She also emphasizes that suicide is preventable and hopes that this data serves as a wake-up call.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Justice, violence in prisons has been on the rise, especially for those employed within correctional facilities. In the last quarter, from July to September, there was a 13% increase in the number of staff being assaulted, with a total of 2,222 incidents reported.
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Justice stated that the well-being of both staff and prisoners is of utmost importance. That is why we make sure that the most vulnerable prisoners have access to 24-hour care and mental health services. We are constantly striving to protect our dedicated staff through our investment of £100 million in security measures, including X-ray body scanners, specialized prison dogs, and body-worn cameras.