New Safer Custody Figures show continuing rise in suicides, assaults, violence and self-harm

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New safer custody figures just published – when we thought three months ago that we might have reached the top of the suicide, violence, and self-harm trend, sadly we were wrong – they have all risen once again.

  • Self-harm incidents continue to rise, reaching new record high. 

The number of individuals self harming increased Self-harm incidents reached a record high of 57,968 incidents in the 12 months to March 2019, up 24% from the previous 12 months. In the most recent quarter, self-harm incidents increased by 1% to 14,415 incidents.

The number of individuals self-harming increased by 6% in the 12 months to March 2019, to 12,539, and the number of self harm incidents per individual increased by 15% from 4.0 to 4.6.

  • Assaults continue to rise, reaching record highs

There was a record high of 34,425 assault incidents in the 12 months to March 2019, up 11% from the previous year. In the most recent quarter, assaults increased by 4% to 8,445 incidents.

  • Assaults on staff continue to rise, reaching record highs

There were 10,311 assaults on staff in the 12 months to March 2019, up 15% from the previous year, and a record high figure. In the latest quarter the number of assaults on staff increased by 4% to 2,525 incidents.

Of the 34,425 assault incidents, 3,949 (11%) were serious

In the 12 months to March 2019, there were 3,949 serious assault incidents, up 1% from the previous year. Serious prisoner-onprisoner assaults decreased by 2% to 3,017 in the 12 months to  March 2019, whereas serious assaults on staff increased by 12% to 1,002.

  • Number of deaths decreased from the previous 12 month period – but the number of suicides has increased

In the 12 months to June 2019, there were 309 deaths in prison custody, a decrease from 311 deaths the previous year. Of these, 86 deaths were self-inflicted, up from 81 the previous year.

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Prison: Deaths, Assaults and Self-Harm – and the facts no amount of spin can conceal


By Mark Leech



Look, I get it.

When your back is against the wall and you’re up against it, when every single piece of evidence shows no matter what you do it stubbornly isn’t working, there is a real temptation to find virtue in anything.

But there is no virtue to be found in the latest safety in custody quarterly statistics, where every single one of the key indicators show a continuing annual rise in deaths, violence and self-harm.

Just look at the plain, stripped-of-spin, painful facts.

  • In the 12 months to March 2019, that’s just four weeks ago by the way, there were 317 deaths in prison custody, up 18 from the previous year – of these, 87 deaths were self-inflicted, up 14 from the previous year.
  • Self-harm incidents rose to 55,598 in 2018, a new record high.
  • Incidents requiring hospital attendance rose to a record high of 3,214 in 2018 and the number of self-harm incidents requiring hospital attendance increased by 5% on the previous year to 3,214.
  • Assault incidents increased to 34,223, a record high level in 2018.
  • Annual assault incidents reached a record high of 34,223 incidents in 2018, a 16% increase from 2017.
  • Assaults in the October to December 2018 quarter show a 5% increase on the same quarter of the previous year.
  • The proportion of assaults on staff continue to rise. The proportion of assaults on staff increased to 30% of all incidents in 2018, an increase from 29% in 2017, and a steady increase from 20% between 2008 and 2011.
  • The proportion of assaults on staff (38%) in female establishments in 2018 was higher than in male establishments (29%).
  • In the 12 months to December 2018, there were 3,918 serious assault incidents, up 2% from the previous year.
  • While serious prisoner-on-prisoner assaults decreased by just 1% since the previous year, serious assaults on staff rocketed by 15% (to 995) in the same period.

Now you tell me what has anyone who can read, talk and walk upright, got to applaud here?

When every single indicator across the quarter is at a higher figure than 12 months ago – often reaching yet more ‘new record highs’ – I find nothing to applaud at all.

But Prisons Minister Rory Stewart did.

Indeed despite the reality that every single annual indicator on deaths, assaults and self-harm showed increases, Rory made a video.

In it he managed to keep a straight face while celebrating the fact that, as he saw it, we have turned a corner, there is now light at the end of the tunnel, the signs of success are there he said, and we should all take comfort from the fact that he has it all under control.

No he doesn’t.

It’s one thing to mistake a swallow for the arrival of Summer, but it’s insane to look at these figures and say a single grain of sand means we’ve all arrived on a beach in Ibiza and it’s now Party Time.

No its not.

You can’t look at one quarter’s figures in this custodial world and make presumptions or try and extrapolate it into the future – especially when every single key annual indicator is still on the rise.

This is not a world where exact science works at all.

The prison population is constantly changing,  it’s fluid, it’s a world where there are people with mental illnesses, addictions, learning difficulties, impulsive behaviour issues, gang allegiances, where skilful manipulators and sophisticated fraudsters are at work.

It’s a place where there isn’t and never has been a one size fits all solution to anything.

It’s a world where when you think you’ve got something cracked the whole thing goes tits up proving you haven’t cracked it at all .

Exactly 25 years ago six Exceptional Risk Category A prisoners escaped from the ‘impregnable prison within a prison’ Special Secure Unit at Whitemoor prison, having managed to acquire a gun and ammunition they shot one prison officer and made it out of the unit over two walls and through a fence to short-lived freedom on the other side – the later Woodcock report revealed they’d also managed to smuggle into the SSU one pound of Semtex high explosive.

What seems calm and controlled one minute can blow up in your face the next – and then drop back down again as if nothing has happened just minutes later.

It’s a world where people aren’t afraid of consequences, being sent to prison doesn’t bother them – they’re already there – and they’ve largely spent a lifetime sticking two fingers up to authority and saying ‘fuck you’ whatever may then befall them.

You can take nothing for granted in this custodial world – and certainly not the fragile seeds of hope that even on the best view these figures do not represent.

I know,  I spent 14 years in prison,  during a prison career of riots and roof-top protests, segregation, ghost trains, and 62 different prisons until one day I arrived at Grendon Underwood where the healing process started, where for once I was treated with decency and respect and where my head was taken off and screwed back on the right way round and I haven’t looked back.

But in 61 other prisons it was ‘them and us’ – and consequences were irrelevant; which is why telling the public that the Government has doubled the sentence for assaults on prison officers may appear like progress, but in the real world of prison it’s utterly meaningless – neither prevention nor cure work here, only reasoning succeeds in the end.

I don’t doubt at all that Rory Stewart and David Gauke have the best of intentions but they are political animals, they have a concave view of the world in which they tell lies for a living – no disrespect, it’s just what politicians do – they call it putting a spin on things but to many people it’s just lying.

Yes, the 10 Prisons Project has had some success, I don’t deny that, it was inevitable and it would be strange if the investment in those prisons didn’t see cleaner wings, brighter landings, fresher environments and progress – but there are another 108 prisons where that simply isn’t the case; in fact there are another 108 prisons where things are going from bad to worse and no amount of spin or fresh paint can conceal it.

Don’t take my word for it, just go to the IMB web site and just read the latest annual reports just published.

IMB at HMP Durham: ….The prison has seen large increases in the use of force, assaults, death in custody and illegal use of drugs

IMB at HMP Haverigg …. widespread use of Psychoactive Substances (PS), not only with respect to those addicted to its use but on the general prison population, staff and also on the overall regime.

IMB at HMP Channings Wood …. decline in both the safety and well-being of the prisoners and in the physical condition of their surroundings with a significant increase in the use of the drug Spice and a serious deterioration in the state of the men’s living blocks.

IMB at HMP Hewell say the prison isn’t even fit for the 21st Century – 20 years after we entered it, widespread use of illicit drugs and mobile phones….

And so it goes on.

A splash of spin and a coat of paint can’t conceal reality – Queen Victoria thought the world smelt of fresh paint because, wherever she went, ten feet in front of her was a man with a paint brush; but had she turned the corner, had she gone off-tour, she would have collided with a reality where filth, stench and danger were obvious to anyone who cared to look.

Well, I care to look.

I want to be optimistic, I want to see progress, but equally I refuse to be deceived and distracted by political spin from the reality of a prison world that is, on the statistical facts, one where in terms of violence, death and self-harm it is getting worse not better.

When we’ve had 12 months not 12 weeks (and we haven’t had a single week across all four key indicators yet let’s not forget) of falling figures on deaths, self-harm and assaults in our prisons, when anecdotal evidence matches the figures and confirms that control has been regained and retained then – and not until then – we can say that progress has genuinely been made; rather than just a second-rate video that frankly was as risible to watch as it was as laughable to listen to.

Mark Leech FRSA is the Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales. @prisonsorguk

Prison Safety Crisis Continues – latest deaths, assaults and self harm figures show increases in all four key areas

Safety in Custody Statistics: Deaths in Prison Custody to March 2019, Assaults and Self-harm to December 2018

New figures released this morning show that once again the levels of violence and self-harm in our prisons are unacceptably high – and show no sign of reducing.

The latest figures show increases across all of the key categories.

Number of deaths have increased compared to the previous 12 month period. In the 12 months to March 2019, there were 317 deaths in prison custody, up 18 from the previous year. Of these, 87 deaths were self-inflicted, up 14 from the previous year.

Self-harm incidents rose to 55,598 in 2018, a new record high, but decreased in the latest quarter. Self-harm incidents reached a record high of 55,598 incidents in 2018, a 25% increase from 2017. The number of incidents between October and December decreased by 7% to 14,313 since the previous quarter.  

Incidents requiring hospital attendance rose to a record high of 3,214 in 2018, although the proportion of incidents requiring hospital attendance has decreased. The number of self-harm incidents requiring hospital attendance increased by 5% on the previous year to 3,214 while the proportion of incidents that required hospital attendance decreased by 1.1 percentage point to 5.8%.

Assault incidents increased to 34,223, a record high level in 2018, but decreased in the latest quarter. Annual assault incidents reached a record high of 34,223 incidents in 2018, a 16% increase from 2017. Assaults in the October to December 2018 quarter decreased to 8,150, a decrease of 11% from the previous quarter, but a 5% increase on the same quarter of the previous year.

The proportion of assaults on staff continue to rise. The proportion of assaults on staff increased to 30% of all incidents in 2018, an increase from 29% in 2017, and a steady increase from 20% between 2008 and 2011. The proportion of assaults on staff (38%) in female establishments in 2018 was higher than in male establishments (29%).

Of the 34,223 assault incidents in 2018, 3,918 (11%) were serious. In the 12 months to December 2018, there were 3,918 serious assault incidents, up 2% from the previous year. Serious prisoner-on-prisoner assaults decreased by 1% since the previous year (to 2,987), and serious assaults on staff increased by 15% (to 995) in the same period. Serious assaults (by 4%), serious prisoner-on-prisoner assaults (by 5%), and serious assaults on staff decreased in the last quarter (by 4%).

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook said the latest prison safety figures show ‘a worrying increase yet again’

Mr Leech said: “These are truly shocking figures yet again, the resignation of the Prisons Minister who promised to go unless he reduced these numbers now seems certain.”

View the LATEST Quarterly Bulletin

When Will Hapless, Hopeless, Rory Stewart Resign?

Prison Safety Crisis As Assaults and Self Harm Reach Record Levels

Violence and self-harm in prisons are “unacceptably high”, the Justice Secretary has admitted, after official figures revealed both have surged again to reach new record levels – and calls for his Prisons Minister Rory Stewart to resign intensify

David Gauke acknowledged the latest official safety in custody statistics for England and Wales were “disturbing” after they showed increases across all of the key categories.

In the year to September, there were 33,803 assault incidents, up 20% on the previous 12 months.

Of those, nearly 4,000 were recorded as “serious” – such as those which require medical treatment or result in fractures, burns, or extensive bruising.

Assaults on staff also continue to rise, reaching record highs.

They increased by 29% year on year, to 10,085, including 997 which were serious, although the Ministry of Justice said a change in the way these figures are recorded may have contributed to the jump.

There were 52,814 self-harm incidents, a 23% increase, and a new record high, according to the MoJ’s report.

It also revealed there were 325 deaths in prison custody in the 12 months to December 2018, up 10% from the previous year. Of these, four were homicides.

Mr 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 a 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.”

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon claimed cuts to staff and budgets were “directly to blame for violence spiralling out of control in our prisons”.

He said: “Our prisons have become a danger to officers, inmates and wider society.”

The Government has come under sustained pressure in recent years over the state of jails after a safety crisis swept through much of the estate.

The new statistics show the overall number of assaults has more than doubled in the last four years.

While the vast majority of the incidents are recorded in male establishments, female prisons have also registered an increase in assaults, with 1,396 in the 12 months to September – the highest number for an equivalent period in the last decade.

Ministers say drugs, and psychoactive substances – formerly known as legal highs – have been a “game changer” in destabilising prisons.

Ahead of the latest findings, the Government announced that new scanning equipment that can detect invisible traces of illicit substances soaked into clothing and paper is up and running in 10 of the most challenging jails.

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart declared in August that he would quit if there was no improvement in safety standards at the 10 establishments within a year.

Mr Stewart has also suggested that jail sentences of six months or less for most crimes could be scrapped to alleviate pressure on the system.

The Press Association revealed on Thursday that prisons have been issued with detailed guidance on handling incoming mail following a surge in attempts to smuggle in drug-laced paper and other contraband via post.

An official security briefing says correspondence is being exploited to convey illicit substances and items into establishments, with instances reported in all prison regions.

Mark Day, of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “These disturbing figures show every indicator of prison safety to be pointing the wrong way, with a rise in numbers of natural and self-inflicted deaths and record levels of self-harm and assaults.

“The measures the Government have put in place to improve prison safety, including increasing staff numbers and the roll-out of a new key worker model, have not yet succeeded in reversing this rising trend.”

Andrew Neilson, of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Ministers have announced their intention to reform sentencing, and the harrowing statistics published today show why action is needed so urgently.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook, was scathing about Rory Stewart, calling him ‘hapless and hopeless’.

Mr Leech said: “Over the last six to eight months Rory Stewart our Prisons Minister has spent night and day tweeting about what?

“Deaths in custody?


“Assaults on staff and prisoners?


“He has spent his time tweeting about Brexit – don’t take my word for it go and look at his twitter account.

“He’s the Prisons Minister, yet to watch him you’d think he was the Brexit Secretary.

“Sure he’s a nice guy, pleasant sociable, fun at times – but let me tell you this: as a Prisons Minister he’s both hapless and hopeless – he promised to resign, now let us see him live up to his word and just do it.

“Put control of our prisons, its policies, its recruitment, its funding, its staffing back where it belongs, inside HMPPS and those who actually know what a cell door looks like.”

Prisons: Yet to turn the corner on safety says Chief Inspector

The jail safety crisis is yet to show signs of reversing, the Chief Inspector of Prisons has warned.

Peter Clarke cited his annual report for 2017/18, which was published in July, saying it made for “pretty gloomy reading”.

He told MPs: “I’m afraid I haven’t seen anything since then to give me optimism that any significant corner has been turned.

“The violence figures are going in the wrong direction, we still see far too many drugs destabilising prisons.”

The latest official statistics on safety behind bars showed assaults, including attacks on officers, and self-harm incidents at record levels.

Mr Clarke added that his inspectorate had not seen any “significant improvements” in living conditions.

Giving evidence to the Commons Justice Committee this morning (Wednesday 21st November), the chief inspector suggested there was a “direct correlation” between worsening safety levels and falls in prison officer numbers.

He said: “In the five years leading up to 2013, levels of violence were steady or even slightly declining in some areas.

“Since 2013, there’s been an inexorable rise. The correlation is that the second half of that decade coincides with the reduction in staff numbers within the estate.

“I’m not in a position to show a causative link but you can show a very clear correlation.”

Two years ago, ministers launched an effort to boost frontline prison officer ranks.

As of September, the number of staff in key operational roles was at its highest since July 2012, but it remains more than 2,000 below the level in 2010.

Mr Clarke said the Government’s recruitment drive “will help” and has yielded some positive changes in prisons.

He added: “Whether they will achieve what needs to be achieved is another matter.”

Prison Officers’ Walk-Out: Concerns Justified Government Tells Union

Concerns over prison violence that sparked a mass walk-out by officers have been recognised by the Government as “justified”, their union said.

Members of the POA, the trade union for prison staff, were told to return to work by 1pm following “meaningful engagement” with prisons minister Rory Stewart.

Mr Stewart “recognised that our concerns are justified and need addressing” following Friday’s protest, General secretary Steve Gillan said.

He said he was “confident a deal is a deal” after the prison service “backed down” over seeking an injunction against the demonstrators.

They have been demonstrating outside prisons in England and Wales from 7am over “unprecedented” levels of violence and safety concerns.

But Justice Secretary David Gauke branded Friday’s action “wrong” and “irresponsible”, adding that it “does nothing” to help reduce levels of violence.

He told reporters: “I agree with those who say that the level of violence is unacceptably high and we are determined to bring it down.

“But I think action of this sort does nothing to help that process, and locking prisoners up for 24 hours a day, which may be the consequence of what the POA are doing, only increases the risk of violence.

“It doesn’t help us address it.”

The action had knock-on effects on court cases, with some defendants in custody unable to be transported to hearings.

The union will hold talks with the prison service on Monday, Mr Gillan said.

He told the Press Association the Justice Secretary risked “inflaming” the situation after an agreement had been reached.

“The protest can’t have made things worse because his minister has recognised that our concerns are justified and need addressing. That’s why we called the protests off,” he said.

“And so while I understand the secretary of state will always say ‘no-one should ever protest, we should rely on negotiation and consultation’, unfortunately when nobody’s listening to you sometimes you’ve got to demonstrate that you don’t think it’s right or proper that 25 officers every day are being assaulted when they go to work.”

He added: “It couldn’t get any worse than it already was and what we now need is positive action to improve the safety of prisons.”

Thousands of prison staff took part in the demonstrations, the POA said, which Mr Stewart called “unlawful” earlier on Friday.

Mr Stewart said after the protests ended: “I am pleased that all parties have been able to bring a swift resolution to this action which, as I have made clear, was irresponsible and placed fellow staff and prisons at risk.

“The priority now must be to continue our constructive dialogue with the safety of our hard-working prison officers at its absolute heart. Ultimately our aims are the same – to see safe, secure and decent establishments that provide a positive environment for staff and prisoners.

“I have demonstrated my absolute commitment to bringing about that improvement but it will only happen if all sides work together.”

The walk-out was triggered by a damning report which warned of a “dangerous lack of control” at HMP Bedford, the union said.

Around 50 officers were outside the prison on Friday, with members recalling how one colleague’s arm was broken with a pool cue while another had his head stamped on.

Richard Gilbert, who has been an officer for 14 years at the facility, said he was suffering with PTSD and depression after a group of inmates repeatedly kicked him in the head.

On Thursday, Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke raised the alarm over the potential for a “complete breakdown” in order and discipline at HMP Bedford.

It was the fourth urgent notification the Government has issued since the scheme was introduced less than a year ago.

Standards across the prison estate have come under intense scrutiny in recent years amid a slew of highly critical reports and a deterioration in safety measures.

In his annual report for 2017/18, Mr Clarke warned staff and inmates have become “inured” to conditions unacceptable in 21st-century Britain.

He highlighted how thousands of inmates are living in squalid and overcrowded cells, locked up for nearly 24 hours a day.

Official figures published in July revealed that assault and self-harm incidents were continuing to rise, both reaching new record highs.

Overcrowding remains a key issue, with the prison population forecast by the MoJ to “steadily” rise by more than 3,000 over the next five years, reaching roughly 86,400 places in March 2023.

The MoJ said it doubled the prison sentence for anyone who assaults prison officers on Thursday.