Prison suicides hit record high in England and Wales
Prison suicides last year rose to an all time high with 119 people having taken their own lives. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) began recording statistics in 1978 and the latest figures also revealed a record 37,784 self-harm incidents, a 23% rise on the previous year.
The numbers of serious assaults in prison, assaults on prison staff and reported incidents of self-injury among men all increased. In response to these figures, the justice secretary Liz Truss said that there were ‘long-standing issues that will not be resolved in weeks or months but our wholesale reforms will lay the groundwork to transform our prisons, reduce reoffending and make our communities safer’.
The MoJ said that ‘restructuring of the prison estate including staff reductions, which have reduced overall running costs, and an increasing awareness of gang culture and illicit psychoactive drugs in prisons’ contributed to the problem. It emphasised that ‘[a]s well as the dangers to both physical and mental health, trading in these illicit drugs can lead to debt, violence and intimidation’. In total, 354 people died in prison last year, another record high and a 38% increase on the year before.
‘No one should be so desperate while in the care of the state that they take their own life, and yet every three days a family is told that a loved one has died behind bars,’ said Frances Cook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform. ‘Cutting staff and prison budgets while allowing the number of people behind bars to grow unchecked has created a toxic mix of violence, death and human misery.’
Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Trust Reform, pointed out that prisons were at 98% capacity according to the government’s statistics. ‘We know that the worst outcomes happen in overcrowded prisons,’ he said. Dawson argued that the only way for prisons to become safe was to reduce prison population numbers.