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Deaths in Prison Custody 2009 figures published

The Ministry of Justice has announced today that there were 60 apparently self-inflicted deaths among prisoners in England and Wales in 2009. Claire Ward, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice said: ‘Each and every death in custody is a personal tragedy for all those involved. The Government is fully committed to reducing deaths in custody. The continued reduction in the rate of self-inflicted deaths in our prisons is welcome news. I would like to acknowledge the efforts of all those who work in our prisons who care for the most vulnerable prisoners.’ On any one day, prisons keep safe over 1,500 people assessed as being at particular risk of suicide or self-harm. These and many more prisoners are helped and cared for by prison staff, third sector partners and other prisoners – trusted ‘Listeners’ trained by the Samaritans to provide confidential emotional support to others. Phil Wheatley, Director General of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) said: ‘It is vital that we learn from all deaths so that we can prevent future ones. I am pleased that we have held down the number of self-inflicted deaths given the increased population pressures we have faced this year. I also welcome the fact that there are now fewer deaths in the early days of custody. This is due to better drug detoxification programmes, mental health services and the sheer hard work of prison staff in caring for those most at risk of suicide. Continuing to reduce the number of self-inflicted deaths in prison custody is important core business for the National Offender Management Service in 2010.’ Stephen Shaw CBE, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, commented: ‘Each death in custody is a tragedy and my office carries out independent investigations to find out what happened. Despite the pressures on the prison system, it is very welcome that the rate of self-inflicted deaths continues its downward trend. I know that the Prison Service takes the safety of prisoners very seriously. I am confident that it will continue to act on my recommendations in a joint endeavour to reduce the rate of avoidable deaths even further.’

Notes to editors

  1. The numbers of self-inflicted deaths in prison custody can vary considerably. Rises and falls from one year to the next are not good indicators of underlying trends. The most reliable guide to trends is the three-year average annual rate. This currently stands at 86 deaths per 100,000 prisoners and has decreased year-on-year since 2004 when it was 130 deaths per 100,000 prisoners.

    Table 1: Self-inflicted deaths in prison custody (England and Wales) by gender

    Gender Male Female Total Population Rate/100k
    1996 62 3 65 55256 118
    1997 65 3 68 61467 111
    1998 80 3 83 65727 126
    1999 86 5 91 64529 141
    2000 73 8 81 65194 124
    2001 67 6 73 66403 110
    2002 86 9 95 71218 133
    2003 81 14 95 73657 128
    2004 82 13 95 74488 128
    2005 74 4 78 76190 102
    2006 64 3 67 77962 86
    2007 84 8 92 80689 114
    2008 59 1 60 83240 73
    2009 57 3 60 83611 72

    Table 2: Self-inflicted deaths in prison custody (England and Wales) by age band

    Age band Under 18s 18-20 21+ Total
    1996 1 11 53 65
    1997 1 8 59 68
    1998 3 11 69 83
    1999 2 13 76 91
    2000 3 13 65 81
    2001 3 10 60 73
    2002 2 12 81 95
    2003 0 12 83 94
    2004 0 6 89 95
    2005 2 10 66 78
    2006 0 2 65 67
    2007 1 6 85 92
    2008 0 5 55 60
    2009 0 5 55 60
  2. Prisoner ‘self-inflicted deaths’ include all deaths where it appears that a prisoner has acted specifically to take their own life. Approximately 80% of these deaths receive a suicide or open verdict at inquest.
  3. Revised Prison Service Order 2700 (Suicide Prevention and Self-Harm Management) was published in October 2007 and implementation was completed in April 2008. Building on several years of learning from the experience of prisoners, staff, investigators, inspectors and others, it incorporates developments such as the introduction of the Assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork (ACCT) procedures, improved cross-agency information flows, and integrated local Safer Custody Teams pursuing a continuous improvement plan in each prison. Also reflected are long-standing areas of safer custody work such as peer supporters (Listeners and Insiders) and working with outside organisations such as The Samaritans and Childline.
  4. ACCT is the care-planning system for prisoners at-risk of suicide or self-harm, introduced across the prison estate in partnership with the Department of Health during 2005-07. ACCT aims to improve the quality of care by introducing individual/flexible care-planning, supported by improved staff training in case management and in assessing and understanding at-risk prisoners. At any one time approximately 1,500 prisoners are subject to enhanced care planning in line with the ACCT procedures.
  5. The new Ministerial Council on Deaths in Custody started its work in April 2009. It comprises three tiers. The Ministerial Board is jointly chaired by Claire Ward, Under Secretary of State for Justice, David Hanson, Minister of State for the Home Office, and Phil Hope, Under Secretary of State for Health. The Ministerial Council is advised by the Independent Advisory Panel which is chaired by Lord Toby Harris. The final tier comprises ad hoc working groups commissioned by the Independent Advisory Panel and made up of experts and practitioners.
  6. Learning from deaths in custody is a key part of the prisoner suicide prevention strategy. Since 1 April 2004, all deaths in prison custody have been investigated by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, Stephen Shaw. The Ombudsman’s investigators and family liaison officers carry out independent investigations which also address any issues raised by the bereaved family.
  7. For more information please contact the Ministry of Justice press office on 020 3334 3536.

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