Prison assaults and self-harm rise to record levels

Assaults and incidents of inmates self-harming have reached a record high in prisons in England and Wales, according to newly-published figures from the Ministry of Justice. 

Apr 25, 2019
By Tony Thompson

There were 34,223 assaults in 2018, up 16 per cent from 2017. The proportion of assaults that were against staff increased to 30 per cent. 

Self-harm incidents also rose, by 25 per cent to 55,598. The number of cases that required hospital attendance reached a record high of 3,214 in 2018. 

A total of 317 people died in prison custody in the 12 months to March 2019, including 87 people who lost their lives through suicide and three homicides. 

Prisons recorded fewer incidents of self-injury and assaults between October and December 2018 than during the previous three-month period, from July to September, but campaigners for reform say it is too early to tell if this represents a significant downward trend. A similar reduction was recorded in the corresponding months in 2017, only for the numbers to rise again.  

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said: “Violence and self-harm in prisons remains unacceptably high, but I’m pleased at these early signs that we are making progress. It’s particularly encouraging to see a quarterly drop in violence, the first in two years. Our dedicated prison staff deserve enormous credit and I want to thank them all for their tireless work.” 

The Howard League for Penal Reform responded to the statistics by calling on the government to bring forward its plans for sentencing reform. Chief Executive Frances Crook said: “Today’s figures reveal the sheer scale of the challenge to transform a prison system that has been overburdened and under-resourced for years. Change is happening, but it is like trying to turn around an oil tanker.

“I welcome the Government’s efforts to reduce violence, including recruiting more staff to increase numbers and refresh the workforce, but fundamental reform is being stymied by the lack of parliamentary time available for legislation.

“I believe the will is there among ministers to make prisons safe and to reduce their unnecessary use, but in the end, lives can only be saved and violence reduced if the nettle of reform is grasped,” she said. 

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