Socialist Worker

Prison death figures reveal terrible toll of Tories’ ‘law and order’ rhetoric

Issue No. 2740

Figures released by the Ministry of Justice  show that the overall number of deaths in prison is rising

Figures released by the Ministry of Justice show that the overall number of deaths in prison is rising (Pic: Wikimedia/Creative Commons)


Six prisoners are dying a week in English and Welsh prisons—nearly one a day.

New statistics on deaths and self-harm in prison reflect the terrible toll of Tory demands for more jailing and longer sentences.

The figures released by the Ministry of Justice on Thursday show that the overall number of deaths in prison is rising. 

The most recent quarter recorded 109 deaths, a rise of 70 percent from 64 in the three months to September 2020. In the 12 months to December 2020 there were a total of 318 deaths of people in prison. 

With four deaths per 1,000 prisoners, the last year saw the second highest rate of deaths since records began more than 40 years ago. 

Of the 318 deaths, 207 deaths were classed as due to “natural causes”. But the charity Inquest says its case work and monitoring shows many of these deaths are premature and far from “natural”. 

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In addition, 67 deaths were categorised as “self-inflicted”.

Disturbingly 42 deaths were recorded as “other”, 32 of which await classification. 

The reckless treatment of prisoners during Covid-19 has worsened the death toll—71 deaths occurred within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test.

Seven of the deaths overall were in women’s prisons, five of which were “natural cause” and two were self-inflicted. Nine of the deaths were of young people aged 18 to 24.

Self-harm in women’s prisons continued to rise and reached the highest ever levels. 

There was an overall annual increase of 8 percent, with 11,482 incidents of self-harm. 

Incidents 

Self-harm incidents requiring hospital attendance increased by 35 percent to 331 in women’s prisons.

Deborah Coles, Director of Inquest, said, “These statistics represent hundreds of people suffering in extreme conditions in prisons. 

“The government ignored experts calling for large-scale early releases to protect people in prison from Covid-19. We are beginning to see the devastating impacts of that decision. 

“Unless radical action is taken, we fear the worst is yet to come.”  

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On 12 January it was announced that the number of prisoners in England and Wales who had tested positive for coronavirus and died rose by 50 percent.

Coles added, “In the short-term urgent action is needed to ensure people in prison have access to healthcare. 

“In the long term, we need a dramatic reduction of the prison population and more investment in communities.  

“The continuing rise in self-harm in women’s prisons comes at a time when the Ministry of Justice has announced 500 new prison places for women. Sadly, this will mean yet more unnecessary suffering and harm.”

There are about 79,000 prisoners in England and Wales and 121 prisons. In 1980 the figure was half that.

Successive governments’ determination to be seen as “tough on crime” has meant more prisoners, deaths, more self-harm and more damaged lives. 


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