Prison suicides have hit their highest rates in nine years, official figures have shown, on a difficult day for the Ministry of Justice that laid bare the state of the UK’s prison system.
Official figures from the ministry show that the number of people taking their own life while in prison has soared by 66 per cent in the 12 months to the end of March this year, marking its highest rate since 2005.
The number of suicides or self-inflicted deaths rose from 36 to 88 in the time period.
The figures were published among a range of statistics showing a leap in escaped prisoners, a rise in the number of jails considered to be “of concern” and a surge in assaults on prison staff.
The number of serious assaults in prisons have risen by 30 per cent while the number of offending behaviour programmes completed in and out of custody – which are designed to reduce the amount of re-offending, included those targeted at sex offenders and drug abusers, has fallen.
Prison governors have repeatedly warned that jails have been struggling to cope with a record population of over 85,000 inmates, while having to oversee budget cuts of up to 24 per cent over the past three years, the Guardian reports.
Deaths in custody are also on the up, with jumping by nearly a quarter over the 12 month period, with a total of 225 inmates dying in jail.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: "In this current economic climate all public services are required to help ease the burden. We are not exempt from that and have reduced our overall budget by 24%, through sensible and well-considered reforms, commended by the National Audit Office.
"As with any significant period of change - coupled with prison population increases higher than expected - it has been a challenge. We are responding to and managing the additional pressures but prisons are still running safe and decent regimes."
Mr Grayling defended the 10 per cent rise in absconds, claiming the numbers are still 80 per cent lower than they were a decade ago. The majority of absconds are from open prisons.
But shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said: “The true scale of the growing crisis in the country’s prisons is revealed by the Government’s own data.
“Violence is up, deaths in custody are up and the number of prisoners going on the run is up. The Government is trying to hide the sheer scale of the failings in the Ministry of Justice from the public by trying to pretend there’s not a problem, let alone a crisis.”
Additional reporting by Press Association