Prisoners: Death

House of Lords written question – answered on 28th July 2014.

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Photo of Lord Knight of Weymouth Lord Knight of Weymouth Labour

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many prisoners have died in custody in the United Kingdom in each of the last 10 years; and what the percentage change has been year on year for the same period.

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many prisoners have committed suicide in custody in the United Kingdom in each of the last 10 years; and what the percentage change has been year on year for the same period.

Photo of Lord Faulks Lord Faulks The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

The government is committed to open and transparent reporting of deaths in custody and publish statistics on deaths in prison custody in England and Wales quarterly in the National Statistics “Safety in Custody” bulletin. This statistical series can be found at www.gov.uk/government/collections/safety-in-custody -statistics.

The number of (i) deaths in prison custody and year-on-year change is presented in table 1. The number of (ii) self-inflicted deaths in prison custody and year-on-year change is presented in table 2.

Figures are provided for England and Wales only. Figures are not published by the Ministry of Justice for other areas of the United Kingdom as the judicial systems are a devolved matter for the respective administrations.

In 2013 there were 2.55 deaths per 1,000 prisoners and between 2008 and 2013 less than 1 prisoner in every 1,000 died from a self-inflicted death. The rate of self-inflicted deaths was consistently above 1 death per 1,000 prisoners between 1993 and 2005, peaking at 1.4 self-inflicted deaths per 1,000 prisoners in 1999.

Table 1: Number of deaths and year-on-year percentage change of deaths in prison custody
Year Number Year-on-year change (%) Death rate per 1,000 prisoners
2004 208 - 2.79
2005 175 -16% 2.30
2006 153 -13% 1.96
2007 185 21% 2.30
2008 166 -10% 2.01
2009 169 2% 2.02
2010 198 17% 2.34
2011 192 -3% 2.24
2012 192 0% 2.23
2013 215 12% 2.55
Table 2: Number of self-inflicted deaths and year-on-year percentage change of self-inflicted deaths in prison custody
Year Number Year-on-year change (%) Self-inflicted deaths per 1,000 prisoners
2004 96 - 1.29
2005 78 -19% 1.03
2006 66 -15% 0.84
2007 92 39% 1.14
2008 61 -34% 0.74
2009 61 0% 0.73
2010 58 -5% 0.68
2011 57 -2% 0.66
2012 60 5% 0.70
2013 74 23% 0.88

Reducing the number of self-inflicted deaths in custody is a key priority – we are working hard to understand the reasons for the recent rise in self-inflicted deaths. But this is a complex issue and there is no simple explanation for the rise.

All deaths are subject to investigation by the police and the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and a Coroner’s inquest, and strenuous efforts are made to learn lessons from these processes.

All prisons have procedures to identify, manage and support people who are at risk of harm to themselves. Prisoners at risk are subject to individual case management and receive support from prison staff, supplemented, where appropriate, by input from mental health services and a range of other sources such as peer supporters and the Samaritans.

There is strong oversight of deaths in custody through the Ministerial Council on Deaths in Custody, which includes an Independent Advisory Panel that has recently been commissioned by the Secretary of State to conduct an independent review of deaths of 18-24 year olds in prison custody since 2007 to report by spring 2015. This will help identify learning points that can be applied across all age groups.

Additional resources and support are being provided for safer custody work in prisons and in particular to improve the consistency of the application of the case management system for prisoners identified as at risk of self harm or suicide.

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