Self-harm and assaults in prisons hit record high, figures show

State of prisons branded ‘national scandal’ as inmate suicides up nearly a third in a year

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 31 January 2019 10:44
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Prison conditions ‘most disturbing ever seen’ with staff now inured to jails not fit for 21st century, watchdog says in damning report

Self-harm and violence in prisons have hit a record high, according to new figures that have prompted fresh concerns about the jails crisis across England and Wales.

Government data shows inmate suicides have also risen considerably, up by nearly a third compared with 2017, which campaigners described as a “national scandal”.

The overall number of deaths in prisons increased by 10 per cent over the last year to 325. Of these, 92 were self-inflicted – a 31 per cent increase on the previous 12 months.

There were 52,814 self-harm incidents – up nearly a quarter (23 per cent) since the previous year and a new record high, according to the figures.

Assault incidents are up 20 per cent from the previous year at 33,803, of which 3,949 were “serious”, while prisoner-on-prisoner assaults were up 18 per cent at 24,138.

In the youth custody estate, self-harm and assaults have also surged, hitting a six-year high despite a marked decline in the population.

Youth justice statistics show the number of self-harm incidents among children and young people in jail increased by 40 per cent to nearly 1,800 incidents.

There were around 3,500 proven assaults by children and young people in the year ending March 2018, marking the largest year-on-year increase in the last six years.

Richard Burgon, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, said violence was “spiralling out of control” in our prisons due to cuts to staff and budgets under the Conservatives.

“Our prisons have become a danger to officers, inmates and wider society, with assaults on both prisoners and staff, and prisoner self-harm all at record highs,” he added.

“The Tories are failing to make our prisons safe. They need to stop tinkering at the edges and set out an emergency plan with substantial new funds to tackle this crisis.”

Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “No one should be so desperate while in the care of the state that they decide to take their own life. It is a national scandal that the number of prisoners losing their lives through suicide has risen again.

“Particularly concerning is the growing number of people, including several men in their twenties, who have died in as yet unexplained circumstances. One cannot begin to imagine the pain this is causing to grieving families who still do not know how or why their loved ones died.”

Justice secretary David Gauke said: “Violence and self-harm in our prisons is unacceptably high and these figures underline why we are spending an extra £70m to fight the drugs plaguing prisons and boost security, while also training over 4,000 new prison officers in handling the complex offender population.

“Clearly there is huge amount yet to be done but I am determined to cut the violence so prisons can focus on rehabilitating the offenders who will be back out at some point. And while these figures are disturbing, I am optimistic that the measures we have been putting in place will help us to reduce violence and ultimately better protect the public.”

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