The number of deaths in prison rose 70% over the last three months with an increase to 109 from 64 in the three months to September last year, according to the latest government statistics. Over the course of 2020, a total number of 318 people died in prison custody, a 6% increase from 2019.
According to the figures, 67 of the total number of deaths were self-inflicted, 207 due to natural causes, and 42 labelled ‘other’ and two were homicides. The campaigning group INQUEST claimed that many of the ‘natural’ deaths were, in fact, premature and avoidable with 2.6 natural deaths per 1,000 prisoners the highest rate on record. Some 51 deaths are suspected to be due to Covid, though the figures show that an additional 20 prisoners died within 28 days of a positive Covid test.
Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST, said the statistics ‘represent hundreds of people suffering in extreme conditions in prisons’. ‘The Government ignored experts calling for largescale early releases to protect people in prison from Covid-19,’ she continued. ‘We are beginning to see the devastating impacts of that decision. Unless radical action is taken, we fear the worst is yet to come.’
Also rising is the rate of self-harm amongst women prisoners. In the 12 months leading up to September 2020 there were 58,870 self-harm incidents reported across male and female prisons, down 5% from the previous year. This is largely owing to a drop in the self-harm rates for male prisoners. However, the female prison estate witnessed an 8% increase in self-harm incidents, bringing the figure to the highest on record for the decade.
‘These statistics are a devastating reminder of the damaging impact of Covid-19 on women in prison,’ said Dr Kate Paradine, chief exec of Women in Prison. ‘We’ve seen over a third increase on the number of women admitted to hospital for self-harm in the last year – highlighting the worryingly rapid decline of mental health.’
The figures come in the wake of government proposals to create 500 new prison places for women, representing a potential 15% rise in the number of women in prison. In a tweet, Deborah Coles denounced the proposals as ‘deplorable’ in light of the soaring rates of self-harm across the female prison estate. ‘We should be dismantling women’s prisons & redirecting resources to specialist women’s & community services’, she says.