New statistics have been released by the Government around suicide deaths among offenders in prisons and those serving community sentences.

Data released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) at the end of October showed suicides in prisons across England and Wales have risen by almost a quarter in the past year, and self-harm behind bars has also increased.

The latest quarterly statistics on deaths and self-harm in prisons showed 304 people died in the 12 months to September, with 92 prisoners having taken their own life - a 24 per cent increase on the year before.

The data also showed a 21 per cent increase in self-harm incidents in the 12 months to June 2023, compared to the previous year – with an eight per cent increase in male prisons and a 65 per cent increase in female prisons.

Over the same period, the rate of self-harm incidents per 100,000 prisoners – which takes into account the increase in the prison population this year – increased by three per cent in male prisons and 63 per cent in female prisons.

In a comment alongside the data release, the statistician said: “The rate [of self-harm] is now more than eleven times higher in female establishments.

“This was driven by a substantial increase in the average number of incidents among those who self-harmed in female establishments, from 11.5 to 17.9 – an acceleration in the increasing trend in average number of incidents seen for the last six years.

“By comparison, the average number of incidents among those who self-harmed in male establishments stayed at 4.1.”

Suicide among offenders in the community

The MoJ data was released on the same day as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released figures on the risk of suicide and drug-related deaths among offenders in the communityof suicide and drug-related deaths among offenders in the community, ie those supervised by the probation service.

This dataset found the risk of suicide was six times higher in offenders in the community compared with the general population, with the risk for male offenders being over four times greater than the general population and the risk for female offenders 11 times greater.

The figures looked at the period of 2011 to 2021 and was based on confidential matching of data from HM Prison and Probation Service with ONS mortality records.

Researchers identified 8,385 deaths of offenders in the community between 2011 and 2021, of which 1,276 were suicides. Of these, 1,136 were male (90 per cent) and 131 were female (10 per cent).

A narrative published with the data said: “The risk of suicide was six times higher between 2011 and 2021 in all offenders in the community compared with the general population, which remained constant over time.

“This is consistent with previous research, and is likely to be related to risk factors which are disproportionately present in offenders, such as substance misuse and mental health problems, as highlighted in Sirdifield et al's literature review published in 2020.

“The risk of suicide in females was 11 times higher than the female general population, consistent with the National study of suicide in all people with a criminal justice history. In male offenders, the risk of suicide was around 4 times higher than the general population.”

*Criminal justice is one of the 13 themes identified in the West Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership’s Suicide Prevention Programme’s five year suicide prevention strategy. The progamme is currently embarking on work with prisons’ healthcare provider Practice Plus Group, and local authority suicide prevention leads, to look at what more can be done in West Yorkshire Prisons and Young Offender Institutions.